Can fear be used as a memory aid in apes? A recently study published by Japanese researchers seems to argue that it can.
There are few things in life that draw as visceral and lasting an impression as a good scare. Think about the first horror movie that really, truly frightened you -- chances are that you can remember the exact scene that kept you up at night on a shot-by-shot basis (for me, it was the closet scene from Halloween). We may be able to quote lines from our favorite comedies until the day is done, but can any of us remember exactly where we were the first time we saw them?
It's the almost instinctual connection between fear and memory that led a group of researchers to begin funding a rather primal study, "Horror Films for Apes" (to put it in lamens terms), which was published in Current Biology today.
The study itself was rather simple in theory. Over the course of his career, researcher Fumihiro Kano perfected a technology that allowed him to track the gazes of chimpanzees and bonobos to learn what held their attention. Both species of primate are known for having excellent long-term memory, but typically, scientists only using study this in regard to their ability to find food. So Kato then partnered with Satoshi Hirata of the Wildlife Center of Kyoto University, with the goal of finding out whether the apes could similarly remember events they've watched -- specifically, short movies created by (and starring!) Kano, Hirata, and their team of researchers. Talk about a triple threat.
The team created two films (the first movie, "Attack", is above, the other below) which were showed to the same set of 6 apes and bonobos 24 hours apart, and the results were astounding. The apes both anticipated the movements of the "aggressive" characters in each film before they occurred the second time around, and even reacted physically to the action taking place. They grimaced, vocalized, and according to The Smithsonian, "One bonobo was so petrified by the on-screen action that it stopped drinking its grape juice and stared, petrified, as the action played out."
("The Mist is Murder!" protest signs: Coming soon to a PETA rally near you.)
In Kato's eye, the test was a runaway success.
"Now that we know how to determine if an animal recalls a single, really significant event, we can try to duplicate this study with other animals." he said
"These movies are the peak of years of experience. We should be awarded the Ape Oscar or something."
Not to rain on your parade, Mr. Fumihiro, but if the Ape Oscars ever actually do become a thing, I'm pretty sure that Michael Bay will sweep them from now until eternity.
Check out Kato & Co.'s second film, "Revenge", below.
Source: Current Biology