Chimpanzees flip thru magazines to distract themselves

Right on the heels of yesterday’s two primate psychology posts involving chimps comes news that captive chimpanzees have been observed to flip through National Geographic magazines that calm them down. chimp-in-office.jpgI wouldn’t have found this if it weren’t for Neatorama‘s post. The observations have been written up and published in Biology Letters. Here’s the paper, ” Chimpanzees use self-distraction to cope with impulsivity.”

For the most part chimps are really rambunctious primates, especially in captivity. They are always impulsive and intense, but psychologists Theodore Evans and Michael Beran of the Georgia State University saw a different animal when they were given magazines to preoccupy themselves with after exciting them with candy.

Their experiment involved observed four adult chimpanzees that were first given a candy dispenser. The candy was given to them every 30 seconds but as soon as the apes reached to get the accumulated candy, the dispenser stopped delivering. This sort of teasing tested the chimps’ patience; a greater award was offered if they resisted their impulses, they would earn a greater award.

And when they were given a set of toys, like magazines, toothbrushes, and tubes, they were significantly better at coping with temptation when they could entertain themselves. Without toys, the chimps could only hold out for about 7 minutes to get a measly 11 candies but when toys were around they waited almost 10 minutes to get a total of 17 candies. Evans remarks,

“The magazines included some National Geographic, Entertainment Weekly, and Atlanta food and wine circulars, among others. The chimps would slowly page through the magazines, probably looking at the pictures—research suggests that they perceive pictures as real objects like humans do. They used the toothbrushes as we would. They appeared to enjoy the bristle texture in their mouth and on their teeth.”

And Beran,

“Humans like to think that they can control themselves better than can animals, and yet this type of research suggests that the story is not that simple.”

So in conjunction with the expectation of rational behavior and cognition skills, here’s another once-thought-of-human-only behavior that is documented in humans.

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