Recent research has shown that apes possess the most durable social memory ever observed in a non-human species: the ability to identify long-lost friends. Ape social memory and long-term recognition are discovered.
According to a study published on Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers discovered that bonobos and chimpanzees could identify photographs. The photographs were of former group members even after they hadn’t seen them in person for more than 25 years. Old friends’ photos elicited an even stronger reaction.
Senior author Christopher Krupenye, an assistant professor of animal cognition at Johns Hopkins University, told CNN that his work with apes and his sense that the primates remembered him years after their last encounter served as the inspiration for the study.
And It Goes Like This
To put this to the test, Krupenye and lead author Laura Lewis—a biological anthropologist and comparative psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley—used images of apes from the Scottish Edinburgh Zoo, the Belgian Planckendael Zoo, and the Japanese Kumamoto Sanctuary that had passed away or left groups.
The team chose people with high-quality photos on file who the participating apes had not seen in long periods. The periods ranged from nine months to 26 years, and they also recorded the nature of the relationship the participants had with the people.
The apes were then given access to two photos, one of the familiar apes and the other of a stranger. Researchers used a non-intrusive eye-tracking device to record the apes’ whereabouts and length of time spent staring. It was discovered that the ape social memory and long-term recognition were present in this case.
A news release stated that although Louise, one bonobo, had not seen her sister Loretta or nephew Erin in 26 years, she “showed a strikingly robust looking bias toward both of them over eight trials.”
According to the release, researchers think that apes’ social memory may last longer than 26 years and may even be similar to that of humans, who lose memory regarding individuals after 15 years nevertheless can recall them for up to 48 years.
The study also suggests that apes might be able to feel the loss of a loved one.
Lewis stated in a press release that “The idea that they do remember others and therefore they may miss these individuals is really a powerful cognitive mechanism and something that’s been thought of as uniquely human.”
By dividing groupmates, poaching and deforestation can negatively impact ape communities. The study’s authors hope to increase awareness of this effect and advance conservation efforts.
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