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Apes Can Guess What Others Are Thinking — Just Like Humans, Study Finds

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Apes have a human-like ability to guess what others are thinking, even in cases when someone holds a mistaken belief, according to research that supports the view that other primates can empathize and have complex inner lives. The findings, in chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans, are the first to clearly demonstrate that apes can predict another’s beliefs — even when they know that presumption is false. In a fresh take on a classic psychology experiment, the apes were able to correctly anticipate that someone would look for a hidden item in a specific location, even if the apes knew that the item was no longer there. The ability to predict that someone holds a mistaken belief — which psychologists refer to as a “theory of mind” — is seen as a milestone in cognitive development that children normally acquire by the age of five. The findings overturn the view that the ability to place oneself in another’s shoes is uniquely human. Krupenye and Fumihiro Kano, a comparative psychologist at Kyoto University who co-led the study, re-examined the question using a creative approach that involved showing the apes videos of a capering actor dressed in a King Kong suit. The video features an actor dressed as King Kong, who hits a man holding a long pole before darting under one of two haystacks while the human looks on. In some scenarios, the King Kong character switches haystack while the human disappears out of view behind a door. The man then reappears and smacks the haystack he thinks his assailant is hidden under — presumably to get his own back. By using eye-tracking technology, the scientists showed that 17 out of 22 apes tested switched their gaze to show they had correctly anticipated when the man would target the wrong haystack. The findings were published on Thursday in the journal Science.


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