This is either a video used in a study to test the memory of apes or a less-than-encouraging sign of the “King Kong: Skull Island” sequel. Video screenshot by Danny Gallagher/CNET
Remember when you went to the zoo as a kid and made faces at the animals in the primate section? Here’s a scary thought: those apes probably remember your face.
A new study from Kyoto University in Japan shows that apes are capable of remembering significant events from short films and even anticipating key moments when viewing the movies a second time. Researchers published the results of their study Thursday in the journal Cell Press.
The scientists produced two short film clips featuring humans in green jumpsuits and an angry ape (a person in an ape suit). The first video shows the ape running out of one of two doors and attacking one of the humans. The second video shows the same angry ape running out of a cage and attacking a human, but this time, the human gets revenge by picking up a tool and beating the primate with it. It’s basically “Saw” but with simians.
The apes watched the videos and scientists monitored their eye movements with an eye-tracking system that placed red dots on the screen to show where the apes were looking. The apes were shown both movies within 24 hours of their initial viewing to see if they could remember what happened.
Both videos clearly show that the apes remembered their earlier cinematic experiences. The first video shows red dots appearing all over the door where the riled-up fake ape is about to emerge during the second viewing. The second video also shows red dots appearing over the tool that the human uses to attack the ape before he picks it up and starts wailing on the animal. The tool was also in a different location in the second viewing and the monkey still anticipated that the man would pick it up and use it.
“One important difference between this and previous studies is that our apes encoded information about novel events into long-term memory, just by watching those events once, while most of the previous studies relied on explicit behavioral training of apes prior to the tests,” according to the study. “Thus, in our study, we can exclude the possibility that apes updated their knowledge within already-established rules that they had acquired through training; rather, they indeed encoded and retrieved the information that they had encountered only once and in a novel context.”
Primates seem to have a pretty advanced memory that may even rival the human brain. A study conducted in 2013 that appeared in the journal Current Biology tested chimpanzees’ ability to recall numbers, and found that some of the younger chimpanzees actually outperformed human adults who were “tested in the same apparatus following the same procedure,” according to the study’s summary.
So I’m not saying this could lead to a “Planet of the Apes”-style takeover, but if those plans involve some kind of diabolical math or memory test, then we might be screwed.