Johns Hopkins University researchers studying apes were surprised when the animals would recognize them after long periods of time apart, and it sparked the idea behind a first of its kind study to document apes’ social memory skills. Biological anthropologists placed photos of one familiar animal and one stranger in chimpanzee and bonobo zoos and used a non-invasive eye-tracking device to determine which image the apes spent more time looking at. Apes were able to instantly recognize faces they hadn’t seen in decades, which is the longest social memory skills ever documented in an animal. A bonobo named Louise spent significant time focusing on the images of her sister Loretta and nephew Erin, who she hadn’t seen for 26 years. The results of this study indicate that similarly to humans, apes’ long-term memory is shaped by social relationships. Researchers plan to expand the study to include other primates to see what else there is to uncover about social memory as it relates to human evolution.
Image via New Atlas
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