Adult Barbary macaques recognize pictures of their friends and family. Researchers have discovered that the older monkeys spend more time looking at unfamiliar animals than they do looking at pictures of friends. Younger macaques, however, seemed more confused by the photo, trying to greet the monkey in the picture. Learn more about this surprising ability. — Global Animal
BBC News, Victoria Gill
Adult monkeys recognise photographs of their friends, according to scientists.
In an experiment, untrained Barbary macaques showed interest in the photos and spent more time scrutinising pictures of unfamiliar animals.
Juvenile monkeys were fascinated but puzzled by the photographs. They often tried to greet or touch the animal in the image.
The findings suggest that the primates learn with age to understand that photos are representations of faces.
As well as adding to our knowledge of their intelligence, the findings, published in the journal Animal Cognition, could also help in future studies of primate behaviour.
“Now that we know [that they spontaneously recognise photographs], we won’t be limited to working in the lab and training the animals,” said lead researcher Professor Julia Fischer, from the German Primate Center and Gottingen University in Germany.
“We will be able to study them in a much more natural captive setting, [studying their behaviour] by designing games for them to play.”
She and her team observed macaques in wildlife park in Rocamadour, south-west France, where the animals are allowed to roam around an open landscape.
She and her students were using booklets containing photographs of the monkeys, which helped them to identify the individual animals they were studying.
“One of the monkeys grabbed a picture book and started looking at the pictures,” recalled Professor Fischer.
“The student asked me, ‘do you think they recognise them?’ I said, I don’t know, let’s see.”
She and her colleagues designed a simple experiment – showing the macaques pictures of their group members and of unfamiliar monkeys.
When adults monkeys were presented with a photo of a familiar face, they looked away quite quickly.
“Adult animals spent more time looking at unfamiliar animals, suggesting that they recognised their group members from the pictures” said Professor Fischer. “The juveniles didn’t show any difference – they were very interested in all the pictures.”
The scientist said it was clear that the pictures puzzled the younger monkeys. They showed signs of unease, including scratching themselves.
“Some of them didn’t know what to do and they would even try to greet the pictures,” Professor Fischer said. “That’s the lip-smacking behaviour you see in the videos.”
The researchers were surprised that untrained monkeys took such an interest in photographs.
“We didn’t think they would respond like this,” said Professor Fischer. “”We thought the pictures would not be relevant to them, [because] in their real lives, they don’t have anything like this.”