From Catherine Caruso at Scientific American:
In the study, published Thursday in Science, a team of scientists recorded the eye movements of three great ape species while the animals watched videos of a man searching for a hidden object that had been moved without his knowledge, and found that they looked more frequently at the location where the man expected the object to be (a belief the apes knew was false), even though the object was no longer there. The findings suggest the apes were able to intuit what the human was thinking.
Apes from all three species consistently passed the test; even though the animals knew King Kong or the rock was gone, when the researcher returned to search for it, they consistently looked at the hay bale or box where the person had last seen the object and presumably still thought it was hidden. These results are particularly surprising because they challenge the large body of previous work that suggests great apes are not capable of comprehending beliefs that are untrue. “People have thought for awhile that false-belief understanding is unique to humans,” Krupenye says, “and so this suggests that apes do have at least a basic, implicit understanding of false belief, which has been seen as a signature of theory of mind.” More.
This is the best they can do? Who would really be surprised if some dogs, cats, and ravens can figure out whether another creature knows where something has been hidden? (Especially if the dog, cat, or raven hid it himself.)
Others are skeptical of that interpretation, however. … “The issue is that subjects could use a simple behavior rule—‘agents search for things where they last saw them’—to pass the tests without understanding anything about the agent’s false beliefs,” they explained.
Yes exactly. A smart bird might figure out what the gorilla suit is likely to do next, provided the bird has some reason to care.
Actually, “theory of mind” is just another one of those terms of art that enable naturalists to avoid the obvious problem: If apes can really do anything special intellectually, why are they still swinging in the trees? Come up with an answer to that and we will listen.
Watch for the casuistry to become ever more sophisticated, unless the public gets dumber or less interested in science.
See also: Bonobos can crack nuts with stones: Nothing science story of the year?
Furry, feathery, and finny animals speak their minds
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