Research: Apes get irritated when they don’t get what they want

King Kong got annoyed.

Understandably so; being put in a cage was bad enough but then having all those planes shooting at him must have really ticked the big fella off.

Turns out that he’s not alone. A new study by Alexandra Rosati from Yale University and Brian Hare from Duke University looked at the emotions and motivations of chimps and bonobos in African sanctuaries.

Alexandra said that the study was based on the concept that human emotions have a critical role in making decisions such as whether to invest or save money. This emotion-resource link was worth checking out in some of our closest relatives.

So the team gave the apes two problems. The first was whether to wait around a bit and then get a bigger reward than other less patient chaps, and the second was whether to possibly get a high quality treat but if the gamble didn’t work then they’d get food they didn’t like.

Turns out that when they didn’t get the outcome they wanted, they’d get all sulky and emotional; pouting, moaning, scratching and banging.

Indeed, in the risk-based task, some of the participants tried to alter their choice when the realisation dawned they’d made the wrong choice. They never did this when the risk paid off.

On occasion these emotions were down to the species, and sometimes individual personalities. Researchers plan next to see whether these experiences have affects on future decisions. A kind of primate priming, in other words.

Caw blimey

Researchers at the University of Iowa have clearly been messing about, too. Edward Wasserman set up a string task, in which a treat is attached to one of two strings, and the participant reels in the string they believe has said treat on it. So far, so reasonably establishment. But the Uni decided to bring this into the iPad era by using a computer touch screen with square buttons attached to either full or empty virtual dishes.

Oh, and did we mention the participants were pigeons pecking at the screen? Each time the birds hit the correct button the virtual food box got closer and eventually real food would appear. And the pigeons scored between 74 per cent and 90 per cent accuracy, even when the strings were crossed.

Watching videos later, the researchers observed the pigeons looking at the dish and string to watch the food get closer. Which is pretty intelligent for a species that is basically a flying rat innit?

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