Chimpanzees and humans alike understand hierarchy

(ORDO NEWS) — I usually write about human behavior, but a cool study of chimpanzees came up and I thought you might be interested too.

It turned out that they associate abstract concepts with physical images, just like we do.

In almost all human languages, physical metaphors are actively used to describe abstract things. “Everything went smoothly.” “Hard temper”.

“Solid Decision”. There’s an entire non-fiction book, A Warm Cup on a Cold Day, about how the human brain associates tactile imagery with more complex concepts. But how do you find out if chimpanzees have something similar?

The great apes that primatologist Ikuma Adachi and psychologist Christoph Dahl worked with were already trained to do the simple task of looking at a photo and then selecting it on a touch screen among several others.

At the first stage, the participant in the experiment saw a portrait of a familiar chimpanzee (they distinguish faces no worse than we do), and at the second stage, two familiar chimpanzees, from which they had to choose the one whose photo had already been presented two seconds ago.

The trick is that the photos of the two chimpanzees were arranged vertically, one above the other. At the same time, since the subject was personally acquainted with both characters, he also knew their social status: who is the leader in the pack, who is the average, and who is the outsider.

The researchers speculated that if chimpanzees think like we do think of a hierarchy as a pyramid, with cool dudes high and losers low then they would be quicker to find a photo of a leader or an outsider when it is at the top or bottom of the screen. respectively.

That is exactly what happened. The chimps took 700 milliseconds to respond if the photo was where it should be, and 900 milliseconds each when the leader was at the bottom of the screen or the outsider was at the top. The scientists ran enough tests to show that the difference was consistent and statistically significant.

The ability to associate the physical properties of space with abstract concepts (scientists call it conceptual metaphorical mapping) is a phenomenon that is mostly studied by linguists.

It has always been believed that this property of our thinking is inextricably linked to the language we use to describe the world. But the chimpanzees in the study couldn’t speak.

It turns out that this way of perceiving the world can exist regardless of language and, quite possibly, was present in our common ancestor with chimpanzees long before we climbed to the top of the evolutionary hierarchy and came up with the phrase “higher primates.”


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