New Research Finds That Apes Can Remember Scenes From Movies

Chimps and bonobos can anticipate what's coming next in a movie they've seen just once.

Mertie . on Flickr

Japanese researchers have proven that chimps and bonobos not only like movies, but they can also anticipate what’s coming next — even if they’ve only seen it once before.

Just like you can picture Jack Nicholson’s face saying “Here’s Johnny!” while he’s still taking an axe to the door, apes remember the emotionally significant parts of a film and see them coming the next time.

The scientists were able to study this thanks to technology that allowed them to track where the apes’ eyes were on the screen while they watched. They published their findings in Current Biology.

It turns out, the chimps and the bonobos were pretty engrossed: “We were giving juice while showing the videos to them, but some of them even forgot to drink [the] juice and stared at the movies!” Fumihiro Kano of Kyoto University says in a statement.

The researchers made their own movies that they thought would be stimulating for the animals. In the first experiment, the movie had two humans in the frame. They wave at the camera and then each squat next to a door on either side of the screen. Then a man in an ape suit comes out of one door and attacks the human on that side. When the apes watched the same movie again a day later, most of them looked to the door where the ape-man would appear just before he did.

You can see what one chimp’s eye movements looked like while watching here:

In the second experiment, an ape-man attacks a researcher, and the researcher retaliates with a weapon. The human picks between either a hammer or a sword to exact his revenge. The next time the film is shown, the position of the two weapons on screen is switched. However, the ape watching the movie still looks to the previously used weapon, even though it’s in a new location.

This research probably won’t take home a Nobel Prize, but it sure seems like a lot of fun.

Maybe they’ll pick up an Ig Nobel.

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