Using Technology to Study Primate Cognition
Zoo scientists use a range of technological tools to understand how chimpanzees, gorillas, and Japanese macaques think and feel.
Zoo scientists explore primate cognition with a powerful research tool: a computer. At Lincoln Park Zoo, chimpanzees, gorillas, and Japanese macaques can choose to use touchscreen computers to solve different types of puzzles for a short time each day while in their habitats. By observing how the apes and monkeys approach these challenges, how they learn and remember solutions, and even what sorts of mistakes they make, zoo scientists gain insights into how primates perceive and understand their social and physical environments.
Testing Primate Preference
Using touchscreen computers, zoo scientists present different images to apes living at Regenstein Center for African Apes and Japanese macaques living at Regenstein Macaque Forest. By observing their choices, zoo scientists and members of the zoo’s Animal Care team can learn about their preferences, ensuring their continued high–level care.
In addition to testing primate cognition using touch-screen computers, Fisher Center scientists also employ this powerful tool to evaluate primate welfare. Studying how the apes and monkeys respond to different images, and assessing whether their responses change over time, gives insights into the primates’ mood and well-being.
Recently, zoo scientists have introduced a new tool to their scientific resources—one that allows them to record what captures each primate’s attention as the group participates in test sessions. Using an eye-tracker, a non-invasive tool that passively records what the primates look at and for how long, zoo scientists can gain more detailed information about their preferences, as well as their perception of the world around them.