Dramatic movie scenes make as big an impression on chimpanzees as they do on humans – especially if they feature a King Kong character, scientists have discovered.
An experiment in which an actor dressed in an ape costume to play King Kong showed that the apes not only remembered once-seen events, but could anticipate exciting scenes they had seen before. The study of chimps and their close cousins, bonobos, took place at Kyoto University’s Wildlife Research Centre in Japan.
Researchers created two series of short films – King Kong Attack and Revenge Of King Kong – in which the apes were shown a familiar-looking environment where shockingly unexpected events take place. In one, an aggressive person in an ape suit emerges from one of two identical doors. In the other, a human actor grabs one of two objects and attacks the ape-character with it. Eye-tracking technology showed that the animals anticipated what they are about to see after a single viewing of the movie. They directed their attention to the door where King Kong made his entrance, and looked fixedly at the object they knew would be wielded as a weapon – even when its location was changed.
Lead scientist Dr Fumihiro Kano said:
‘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. When shown a video for the second time, after a 24-hour delay, the apes clearly anticipated what was coming next. This demonstrates their ability to encode single-experience events into long-term memory.’
The researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Current Biology, were surprised to find that the apes really seemed to enjoy the films.
‘We were giving juice while showing the videos to them,’ said Dr Kano. ‘But some of them even forgot to drink the juice and stared at the movies.’