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Jul 19 2013

The madeleine

Via Taslima – a study shows that chimps and orangs can have episodic memories after three years.

It has been well established in humans that sensory cues like songs and smells can help transport our minds back to the past.

The team, led by Gema Martin-Ordas of Aarhus University, Denmark, used the same principle. They found that cues – keeping the experimental set up the same – triggered the apes’ memories.

They observed that 90% of the apes who experienced the event three years earlier found the tool in the correct location almost instantly.

“Our data, and other emerging evidence, keep challenging the idea of non-human animals being stuck in time,” said Dr Martin-Ordas.

“We show not only that chimpanzees and orangutans remember events that happened two weeks or three years ago, but also that they can remember them even when they are not expecting to have to recall those events at a later time.

“What this shows is that the episodic memory system in humans is not as unique as we thought it was, as we share features with non-human primates.”

National Geographic has more.

In 2009, the team ushered 12 of the apes into the middle of several connected cages. In full view, they hid two tools in different boxes within the adjacent rooms. Their job was to remember where these tools were—they would need them to reach an inaccessible piece of food in a later test. They had four shots at doing this.

Over the next three years, the apes went about their lives. They ate, slept, socialised, and took part in many more studies. Then, in 2012, eleven of them were led into the same set of rooms with tool-containing boxes in the same locations. And all of them, except for one, went straight to boxes and retrieved the tools. They remembered.

Call was surprised at “how quickly they retrieved the tools as soon as we opened the doors”. They all did this on their first attempt, without prompts or trial-and-error. They didn’t know this test was coming—in 2009, even the researchers hadn’t planned to repeat their experiment three years later. And by contrast, seven individuals that weren’t part of the original experiment didn’t head for the boxes; they just explored the rooms randomly.

Three years. That’s impressive.

 

 

10 comments

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  1. 1
    HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr

    Oh wow.

  2. 2
    nkrishna

    Geez, I thought the first line said “chimps and oranges.” Now that would be truly amazing.

    But this is pretty impressive and very interesting, too. :)

  3. 3
    Moggie

    I can’t find a #10 Torx screwdriver I last used three weeks ago. Evidently I’m dumber than ten out of eleven of my fellow apes.

  4. 4
    tmscott

    I’m not the least surprised to hear that chimps can experience proustian moments. After all, when was the last time you saw one using any punctuation?

  5. 5
    sceptinurse

    At 2

    I saw the same thing. My first reaction was Oranges can remember things? But on reading the article, this very cool.

  6. 6
    Great American Satan

    Dog story which demonstrates the same ability, just applied stupidly:

    Guy gets bored of playing fetch with stupid dog, puts toy out of reach on top of a tall drawer. Later, gets toy down and uses it again.

    For the rest of the dog’s life, despite seeing the same toy that went up there come back to him the same day, keeps going back to the drawers and looking at the top – expecting something he wants is still up there, waiting.

    I heard squirrels increase brain mass to remember where they planted nuts, then shed the extra mass when they don’t need it. I don’t know if that’s true or anything about the mechanisms involved (does the mass mean nerve branches, extra nutrients of some kind, or what?), but I saw it on that there television.

  7. 7
    bad Jim

    Crows not only remember things, but also pass them along to family and friends.

    Crows have been known to change their entire migration pattern to avoid farms where even a single crow has been killed in the past. Generations upon generations later, they still remember specific houses where one measly bird has died.

  8. 8
    sailor1031

    So now they know about these animals does one suppose the scientists will realise how cruel it is to keep the apes in prison to study them?

    @satan: a german shepherd maybe? certainly not a Samoyed

  9. 9
    Great American Satan

    An oversized genitally intact jerkweed of a miniature dachsund. He had longevity and health like Jack LaLanne, but broke down hard in his last years because his owner was too much of a wiener to take him to the vet. Sad stuff.

  10. 10
    sailor1031

    very sad.

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