Chimps Prefer Watching Movies Starring Humans in Ape Costumes

Chimps and bonobos pay close attention to videos featuring characters dressed in ape costumes, a new study suggests.

0001hen it comes to watching movies, nothing captures a chimp’s attention better than a human dressed in an ape suit. In a study conducted out of Kyoto University’s Wildlife Research Center, researchers played videos for chimpanzees and bonobos, tracking their eyeball movements over the duration of the film. In the moments before a costumed-character entered the frame, apes who had previously watched the scene anticipated the character’s arrival, paying close attention to where the character appeared last time.

The study’s findings were published in Current Biology.

“When you watch a shocking, emotional event in a movie, you remember the event well, and later on, when you watch the same movie, you anticipate the event,” said co-author Fumihiro Kano in a press release. “Thanks to a recent advance of state-of-the-art eye-tracking technologies, we could examine event anticipation by great apes while watching a movie by means of ‘anticipatory looks’ to the impending events.”

Researchers at Kyoto University created a short film in which an aggressive character wearing an ape suit jumps into the frame. The red dots indicate chimp and bonobo eyeball movements as they anticipated the character’s arrival.

According to Kano, the chimps became extremely engrossed in the film upon seeing the ape character. “We were giving juice while showing the videos to them,” he said, “but some of them even forgot to drink juice and stared at the movies!”

Many apes have been observed watching videos and understanding their content. Although controversial, the research surrounding Koko the gorilla indicates she became emotional when viewing a sad scene in her favorite movie. “Frown, sad, cry, bad, trouble, mother, Koko-love,” she signed, visibly upset at a scene in “Tea with Mussolini”, where a young boy departs from his family and waves goodbye from a train.

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