Thursday, 22 July 2010

Gorillas - Playful Minds

Published in the journal Animal Cognition, Dr. Joanne Tanner and Prof Richard Byrne at the University of St Andrews, have produced intriguing evidence that Gorillas, like human infants and bonobos, will actively engage in social play and another object - Whilst playing together, gorillas will share their toys.

The article entitled, Triadic and collaborative play by gorillas in social games with objects, discusses the current trend in the field of comparative psychology to assume that non-human primates lack (with the exception of bonobos - who are more cooperative in nature, and therefore more akin to humans than to chimpanzees in this respect) the key characteristics of children's collaborative play.  However, the study appears to show that gorillas do indeed play games that are both triadic and collaborative in nature.


The triadic and collaborative games were videotaped at the San Francisco Zoo in five different years and involved five different pairings of gorillas. The context was in most cases playfully competitive, involving objects such as balls, bags and leather pieces as foci of joint attention; the ostensible goal in most games was to gain or keep possession of a particular object.  In some episodes, roles as possessor or pursuer of an object were exchanged many times; in others, one gorilla retained possession of an object but encouraged pursuit from a partner.


Through gaze and gesture, gorillas invited others to: share interest in and attention to objects; share patterns of play; and re-engage after breaks in play. Sometimes, gorillas would assist others in their efforts to engage in collaborative play: older gorillas encouraged younger partners by ‘self-handicapping' their own actions.


Collaborative games may occur later in the ontogeny of gorillas than in humans, and depend on the challenges and artefacts available in a particular group's habitat.  It is hoped that the current findings will further help to trace the evolutionary origins of how humans take the perceptions and goals of others into account, back to around 6 million years ago.

The research is published by the journal Animal Cognition (January 2010)   

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