Apes can enjoy a good thriller… no word on popcorn, yet

A still from a short film featuring an aggressive person in an ape suit. The red marks signify the eye movements of an actual non-human primate while watching watching the video. (Image: Discovery/Video: Fumihiro Kano, and Kumamoto Sanctuary, Wildlife Research Center, Kyoto University)

According to EUREKA ALERT, apes are far more discerning than previously thought.

Remember the scene in the classic movie ALIEN, when that creepiest of creatures bursts out of John Hurt’s belly as he writhes in pain? Well, according to a study reported in the Cell Press journal CURRENT BIOLOGY on September 17, great apes are pretty good at remembering and anticipating memorable events they’ve seen on-screen too–even when they’ve seen the event only once.

“When you watch a shocking, emotional event in a movie, you remember the event well, and later on, when you watch the same movie, you anticipate the event,” says Fumihiro Kano of Kyoto University in Japan. “Thanks to a recent advance of state-of-the-art eye-tracking technologies, we could examine event anticipation by great apes while watching a movie by means of ‘anticipatory looks’ to the impending events.”


To find out, the researchers made two short films starring themselves and then showed them to six chimpanzees and six bonobos while tracking their eye movements. In one movie, an aggressive person in an ape suit came out from one of two identical doors. In the other film, a human actor grabbed one of two objects and attacked the ape-like character with it.

The eye-tracking data showed that animals anticipated what they were about to see after a single viewing of the movie. On a second viewing of the first movie, the apes directed their attention to the door where they knew the person dressed as an ape would appear. While watching the second film again, the animals looked in anticipation at the object they knew would soon be used as a kind of weapon, even when that object was placed in a different location than they’d seen earlier.

Read the rest of the fascinating article at EUREKA ALERT.