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Updated December 20th, 2023 at 17:36 IST

Apes' stellar memory: Recognizes friends even after 25 years

Recent studies reveal that apes outperform certain humans in memory abilities.

Manasvi Asthana
Apes may have a stellar memory.
Apes may have a stellar memory. Representative image. | Image:Unsplash
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Recent studies reveal that apes outperform certain humans in memory abilities. A research team observed a cohort of apes viewing pictures of long-lost friends, some unseen for over 25 years, and analyzed the animals' responses to the images.

The research findings were published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Dr. Laura Lewis, the lead author from the University of California, Berkeley, stated to a British news agency that the animals closely resemble humans in many aspects. “We tend to think about great apes as quite different from ourselves, but we have really seen these animals as possessing cognitive mechanisms that are very similar to our own, including memory,” she said.

As reported by a news outlet, the team of researchers collaborated with chimpanzees and bonobos in three zoos: Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, Planckendael Zoo in Belgium and Kumamoto Sanctuary in Japan.

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Subsequently, the researchers with co-author Christopher Krupenye from Johns Hopkins University gathered pictures of apes that were no longer present at the zoo individuals the other apes had not encountered in at least nine months and in some cases as long as 26 years.

The researchers sought to understand the connections between the current ape residents and those who had departed, investigating whether there were any positive or negative emotions associated with those relationships, as per reports.

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As preparations for the study were in progress, researchers extended invitations to the chimpanzees and bonobos, enticing their participation with juice.

Once the apes were engaged and actively involved, they were presented with two adjacent photographs one depicting an ape they had encountered previously, and the other featuring an unfamiliar individual.

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The researchers employed a non-invasive eye-tracking device to observe the apes' gaze, determining both the direction and duration, in order to assess whether they were recognizing the previously encountered ape.

The team discovered that the animals consistently gazed at the familiar image for a "significantly" longer duration compared to the unfamiliar animal they had never encountered.

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The British news agency reported that the apes also extended their gaze for a longer duration towards animals with whom they had positive interactions in the past, according to the research.

The experiment yielded a particularly noteworthy result when researchers presented an image of Louise, a bonobo, observing her sister and nephew, individuals she had not seen for more than 26 years. She consistently offered a “strikingly robust” gaze toward both of them in eight distinct comparisons.

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According to Lewis, researchers were able to infer that the memory capabilities in these animals closely resemble those of humans, as reported by a British news agency.

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Published December 20th, 2023 at 17:36 IST

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