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The ultimate chimp challenge: Chimps do challenging puzzles for the fun of it

Date:
February 24, 2013
Source:
Zoological Society of London
Summary:
Scientists are putting their bananas away, because chimpanzees don't need any persuading when it comes to getting stuck into brain games.

Chimp Phil playing the puzzle.
Credit: Image courtesy of Zoological Society of London

A study, published by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), shows that just like humans love getting stuck into a crossword, chimpanzees get the same feeling of satisfaction from completing tricky puzzles.

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Scientists set up a challenge for six chimpanzees at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo using plumbing pipes from a DIY store. The challenge involved moving red dice through a network of pipes until they fell into an exit chamber. This could only be achieved by the chimps prodding sticks into holes in the pipes to change the direction of the dice. The same task was also carried out with Brazil nuts, but the exit chamber removed so that the nuts fell out as a tasty treat for the chimps.

The paper was published February 24 in the American Journal of Primatology.

ZSL researcher Fay Clark says: "We noticed that the chimps were keen to complete the puzzle regardless of whether or not they received a food reward. This strongly suggests they get similar feelings of satisfaction to humans who often complete brain games for a feel-good reward."

The adult family group of chimpanzees at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo consist of two females and four males, three of which are half-brothers: Phil, Grant and Elvis. This study allowed them to solve a novel cognitive problem in their normal social grouping, by choice. In addition, the chimpanzees were not trained on how to use the device.

"For chimps in the wild, this task is a little bit like foraging for insects or honey inside a tree stump or a termite mound; except more challenging because the dice do not stick to the tool," Fay added.

The challenge, which only cost about 40 to make, was made more intricate by connecting many pipes together, and the level further increased by making pipes opaque so chimpanzees could only see the dice or nuts through small holes.

The chimps took part in the cognitive challenge as part of their normal daily routine and doing the brain teaser was completely voluntarily. As part of the Zoo's enrichment programme, they also receive tasty treats hidden in boxes, as well as pillows and blankets every night to make up their own beds. Chimps build their own nests every night in the wild, and this enrichment encourages the animals' natural behaviours.

This study suggests that like humans, chimpanzees are motivated to solve a puzzle when there is no food reward. They do so for the sake of the challenge itself. It also suggests that chimpanzee cognition can be measured on social groups under more naturalistic conditions.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Zoological Society of London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Fay E. Clark, Lauren J. Smith. Effect of a Cognitive Challenge Device Containing Food and Non-Food Rewards on Chimpanzee Well-Being. American Journal of Primatology, 2013; DOI: 10.1002/ajp.22141

Cite This Page:

Zoological Society of London. "The ultimate chimp challenge: Chimps do challenging puzzles for the fun of it." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 24 February 2013. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130224124635.htm>.
Zoological Society of London. (2013, February 24). The ultimate chimp challenge: Chimps do challenging puzzles for the fun of it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 30, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130224124635.htm
Zoological Society of London. "The ultimate chimp challenge: Chimps do challenging puzzles for the fun of it." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130224124635.htm (accessed January 30, 2015).

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