Week 9 – Body Language

Primate Cinema: Apes as Family, by Rachel Mayeri was an interesting film for a different audience, the chimpanzees. Before hearing about this film, I have known of different tactics people use to collect data on how animals respond to human body language. Using a film to capture the responses of chimpanzees and learning how it could be used for future tests seems like a fascinating idea.

Rachel watches Paul watching TV

Mayeri explained that she used more than one type of cinematic genre, such as animation to documentary to widen the types of reactions the chimps would display. An interesting example of a reaction was when the chimpanzees were interested in the humans in chimp suits having sex. I assume that most of the notable reactions from the chimps come from actions that are related to what the chimps are familiar with. After watching this scene, a male chimp responded by “hooting or hitting the monitors”.  In the article “Chimpanzee hand gestures suggest human communication is even older than we thought” by Alasdair Wilkins, he mentions that many of the gestures that she has identified are tied to sex and many of these gestures are related to those of humans.

-“Chimpanzees use these gestures intentionally to elicit a desired response from other chimpanzees and they may be the missing link between ape and human communication. We now know that these gestures must have been in the repertoire of our common ancestor and might have been the starting point for language evolution. Manual gesture in chimpanzees is controlled by the same brain structures as speech in the human brain.” – Dr. Roberts

Another interesting observation from the project was the difference between wildlife and indoor chimpanzees. The indoor chimpanzees were more interested in the television while the ones raised in the wildlife showed less responses. This is an example of how the indoor species have communicated with humans long enough to show more interest in the actions we do. Perhaps those raised in the wildlife are less interested in trying to understand the unknown to them?

Monkeys from the experiment watching the film.

When some of the chimpanzees saw certain scenes such as when the main character is seen calling out to foreign chimps who have invaded her house, they reacted rather violently. It triggered natural instincts that had to do with male dominance and it could be noted that the chimpanzees always take into account their established territory. Just a film from an alternate place was able to arouse the chimps into a violent state making it as if they were not able to distinguish the film from real life. In the end, I think that using a film to interact with chimpanzees was a new method that I haven’t really considered about, and it holds much potential to future research.

Sources: http://rachelmayeri.com/blog/2011/04/18/primate-cinema/


-Daniel Yang


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