Newspaper article International New York Times

Chimps Would Cook, If They Could ; Study Shows Patience and the Foresight to Resist Eating Raw Food

Newspaper article International New York Times

Chimps Would Cook, If They Could ; Study Shows Patience and the Foresight to Resist Eating Raw Food

Article excerpt

Scientists from Harvard and Yale found that chimpanzees would give up raw food on the possibility that it might emerge cooked later.

Chimpanzees have the cognitive ability to cook, according to new research, if only someone would give them ovens.

It's not that the animals are ready to go head-to-head with Gordon Ramsay, but scientists from Harvard and Yale found that chimps have the patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and to place it in a device meant to appear, at least to the chimps, to cook it.

That is no small achievement. In a line that could easily apply to human beings, the researchers write, "Many primate species, including chimpanzees, have difficulty giving up food already in their possession and show limitations in their self-control when faced with food."

But they found that chimps would give up a raw slice of sweet potato in the hand for the prospect of a cooked slice of sweet potato a bit later. That kind of foresight and self-control is something any cook who has eaten too much raw cookie dough can admire.

The research grew out of the idea that cooking itself may have driven changes in human evolution, a hypothesis put forth by Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard, and several colleagues about 15 years ago in an article in Current Anthropology, and more recently in his book, "Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human."

He argued that cooking may have begun something like two million years ago, even though hard evidence only dates back about one million years. For that to be true, some early ancestors, perhaps not much more advanced than chimps, had to grasp the whole concept of transforming the raw into the cooked.

Felix Warneken at Harvard and Alexandra G. Rosati, who is about to move from Yale to Harvard, both of whom study cognition, wanted to see if chimpanzees, which often serve as stand-ins for human ancestors, had the cognitive foundation that would prepare them to cook.

One obvious difficulty in creating an experiment was that chimps have not yet figured out how to use fire, and the scientists were wary of giving them access to real cooking devices. So the scientists hit on a method that, as they write in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, presents the chimps with "problems that emulate cooking. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.