Learning by Doing  – WEEK 10! <3

The film on chimpanzee responses to cinema about them that the filmmaker Rachel Mayeri presented during lecture last week was actually really intriguing to me in concept, even as I’ve always tended to shy away from any animal experimentation. Rachel was fascinated with understanding how chimpanzees think or what they prefer, but instead of putting them into a strictly controlled laboratory setting, her work was about observing their behaviors when they encounter the TV displays voluntarily. By cooperating with the cognitive scientist Dr. Deborah Forster and the psychologist Dr. Sarah-Jane Vick, Rachel made several films that mimic chimpanzee actions through human actors and cartoons. Mixed together with footages of real chimpanzee actions, Rachel and company were able to present to a group of curiosity seeking chimps, “Primate Cinema”– a wide range of genres of chimpanzee chinema. They include, for example, seeking and fighting for the female, looking and fighting for food, and other social/political situations. She presented them before chimpanzees to capture their responses overtime as she switch up the programming. Notable takeaway from her observations were that the chimps, like their human cousins, are especially drawn towards films about sex, violence, and food! Thus, even though we can’t directly communicate with these animals through conversations, we can still comprehend their behavior a lot by watching their responses and their preferences.

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Rachel Mayeri, Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, (still) 2011 two channels

“As the watchers of the watching chimps, we perceive – or we imagine – fascination, puzzlement, and flashes of anger in their responses” –Rachel (primate-cinema-apes-family).

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Rachel Mayeri Primate Cinema Apes as Family 2011 Photo by Matt Chaney

Rachel also showed us a film called “How To Act Like An Animal” that she made with Dr. Forster in 2008 as a part of the series of Primate Cinema. For making this film, they prepared a class at a public school, and taught people how to perform like animal by watching video clips of animal behavior. They communicated with each other through the body languages, by expressions and gestures, and have more understanding about “what it means to be a baboon, a chimpanzee, or a bonobo.” However, there are some obvious limitations to what a human can mimic, as they “contorting their bodies to move like quadrupeds, the workshop participants tried and failed to live in a different type of anatomy” (workshop).

Featured imageDave Johnson, Estela Garcia, and Penny Folger acting like chimpanzees in workshop

Through Rachel’s presentation of her concepts and motives, I felt much less taken aback with animal behavior studies. Now I can see that when we understand how chimpanzee act and think, we are in a much better position to help them or even just knowing the boundaries of our interactions. Without the aid of a speak-able language, human only can examine these animals’ activities or thoughts by their body language and analyzing their daily life. That reminds me about some studies focusing on knowing the needs of babies, as well as my own experiences. Before my son was born, I had no knowledge of all the little intricacies in the movements and behavioral patterns of babies. After, I needed to learn to comprehend what he wanted through his expressions: laugh, cry, smile, in combinations with body language such as scratch, dance, climb, etc., to tell how he is feeling, growing and developing. Although to learn a speak-able language is an important thing, the use of body gesture and some significant sound still have their irreplaceable role in this world.




-Yinrou Wang


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