Apes and Memory: They Know What Happens in Jaws?

Sep 29, 2015 01:09 PM EDT

Everyone remembers the part of Jaws when the shark emerges for the first time, breaking the surface of the water. And every time you watch the movie you anticipate that precise moment. Although it's not as thrilling as it was the first time you saw the Spielberg flick, you anxiously await the shocking reveal of the great white behemoth. Humans are not alone in feeling anticipation of an event the second time we see a movie; new research proves that apes look forward to such a gripping moment, as well.

A study published in Current Biology recently revealed that when great apes watch a film, they anxiously prepare for a scene's exciting culmination. This discovery was determined through the use of the most advanced eye tracking technology -- and the creation of two short films. By following the primates' eye movements, the researchers were able to observe and determine what the monkeys were looking at on the screen.

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In the first film, a man dressed in a gorilla suit enters the scene through one of two identical doorways and attacks a researcher. The second time the apes watched this film, 24 hours later, their eyes looked in anticipation toward the door they knew the man in the gorilla suit entered when they first watched the movie -- they were expecting his entrance before it took place.

In the second film, a man dressed in a gorilla suit attacks a researcher and than the researcher grabs one of two foam weapons and attacks the man in the gorilla suit. During the second viewing, the positioning of the foam weapons was reversed. However, when the apes watched this film for the second time their eyes moved to the weapon they remembered was utilized in the first viewing, despite the change in location.

These findings indicate that the "moviegoers" remembered what they had seen previously, shedding new light on the long-term memory of apes, particularly chimpanzees and bonobos, which were used in this study. With just one viewing, the apes took note of an ongoing event and encoded it into their long-term memory. While there have been a variety of observational studies on apes' long-term memories by seeing how they retrieve information from the distant past, this is the first study to examine how a non-human stores information of an ongoing event after a single viewing.

The "anticipatory looks" of the apes were so telling that the scientist said they would use this technology again in order to study other high-level cognitive functions of apes, including the capacity to recognize that other beings can have different opinions, wants and beliefs.

So, the next time you watch Jaws and are waiting for the shark to pop out of the ocean and scare Roy Scheider, just remember that our evolutionary ancestors will be waiting for that moment alongside of you.

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