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Zoo chim­panzees get feel-​good fac­tor from brain teaser

pub­lished 24 Feb­ru­ary 2013 | mod­i­fied 24 Feb­ru­ary 2013

Chimp Phil puzzleA study, pub­lished by the Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Lon­don (ZSL), shows that just like humans love get­ting stuck into a cross­word, chim­panzees get the same feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion from com­plet­ing tricky puz­zles.

Sci­en­tists set up a chal­lenge for six chim­panzees at ZSL Whip­snade Zoo using plumb­ing pipes from a DIY store. The chal­lenge involved mov­ing red dice through a net­work of pipes until they fell into an exit cham­ber. This could only be achieved by the chimps prod­ding sticks into holes in the pipes to change the direc­tion of the dice. The same task was also car­ried out with Brazil nuts, but the exit cham­ber removed so that the nuts fell out as a tasty treat for the chimps. The paper was pub­lished online on Feb­ru­ary 22 in the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Pri­ma­tol­ogy.

ZSL researcher Fay Clark says:

We noticed that the chimps were keen to com­plete the puz­zle regard­less of whether or not they received a food reward. This strongly sug­gests they get sim­i­lar feel­ings of sat­is­fac­tion to humans who often com­plete brain games for a feel-​good reward.

The adult fam­ily group of chim­panzees at ZSL Whip­snade Zoo con­sist of two females and four males, three of which are half-​brothers: Phil, Grant and Elvis. This study allowed them to solve a novel cog­ni­tive prob­lem in their nor­mal social group­ing, by choice. In addi­tion, the chim­panzees were not trained on how to use the device.

“For chimps in the wild, this task is a lit­tle bit like for­ag­ing for insects or honey inside a tree stump or a ter­mite mound; except more chal­leng­ing because the dice do not stick to the tool,” Fay added.

The chal­lenge, which only cost about £40 to make, was made more intri­cate by con­nect­ing many pipes together, and the level fur­ther increased by mak­ing pipes opaque so chim­panzees could only see the dice or nuts through small holes. The chimps took part in the cog­ni­tive chal­lenge as part of their nor­mal daily rou­tine and doing the brain teaser was com­pletely vol­un­tar­ily. As part of the Zoo’s enrich­ment pro­gramme, they also receive tasty treats hid­den in boxes, as well as pil­lows and blan­kets every night to make up their own beds. Chimps build their own nests every night in the wild, and this enrich­ment encour­ages the ani­mals’ nat­ural behaviours.

This study sug­gests that like humans, chim­panzees are moti­vated to solve a puz­zle when there is no food reward. They do so for the sake of the chal­lenge itself. It also sug­gests that chim­panzee cog­ni­tion can be mea­sured on social groups under more nat­u­ral­is­tic conditions.

The above news item is reprinted from mate­ri­als avail­able at Zoo­log­i­cal Soci­ety Lon­don via EurekAlert. Orig­i­nal text may be edited for con­tent and length.
(Source: ZSL, 23.02.2013)

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