Magazine article American Scientist

Great Apes and False Belief

Magazine article American Scientist

Great Apes and False Belief

Article excerpt

A new study that involved eye tracking of great apes watching videos of an actor in a gorilla suit indicated that these primates can predict another's behavior even when they know it is misguided, which could indicate the ability to recognize in others a false belief. Such an ability is a stage in the development of a theory of mind, a stage previously thought to be unique to humans. The videos adapted a technique that has been used to study false belief in infants and that tests whether study subjects anticipate where someone will look for an object or individual. The videos showed high-stakes scenarios, such as the actor in a gorilla suit attacking a researcher, then hiding in one of two hay bales, then leaving after the researcher leaves the scene. When the researcher returns with a big stick to look for the wayward gorilla, eye tracking showed that the bonobos, chimpanzees, and orangutans who watched the video would spend time looking at the hay bale where it had been hiding, predicting where the researcher would mistakenly look for it. …

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