Chimpanzees are self-starters

04 May 2011

Research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B reveals that chimpanzees have a sense of ‘self’ and are able to discern the effects of their own actions over those generated by a computer.

Scientists based at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute presented chimps with a computer ‘game’ that consisted of two cursors moving across a screen.  The apes were able to control one of the cursors using a trackpad but had to work out which of the cursors they could manipulate.

The chimps’ success in this task led the scientists to conclude that the primates are able to understand how their own actions affect the outside world.  While previous work has hinted at this – showing that monkeys can remove marks on their bodies by looking in a mirror – the evidence was not considered conclusive.

However, the experiments reported today show that chimpanzees appear to be able to recognize when they control an external stimulus – one of the key aspects that forms part of humans’ sense of ‘self’.  The authors state that: “the results suggest that chimpanzees and humans share fundamental cognitive processes underlying the sense of being an independent agent.”