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Baby Chimps Show Same Cognitive Growth As Human Infants

February 1, 2009

Chimpanzees are famous for their aptitude in mimicking human behavior. Now scientists have announced that baby chimps’ mental development may be more advanced than human infants.

At only nine months old, the animals are as inquisitive and accomplished at recognizing parent figures as the average baby.

The scientists who headed the project believe that their findings create important evidence that chimpanzees, like humans, flourish with social interaction. The more one on one their contact is, the quicker their brains develop.

This research indicates that they mature in the same ways as people before humans race ahead developmentally.

“Nursery-reared chimpanzees…exhibited distress (screaming and crying) in those episodes when they were separated from their favorite caregiver and . . . [touched their toys] when their favorite caregiver was present,” says the study by scientists at Portsmouth University and Leiden University, Holland.

The researchers published their findings in the journal Developmental Psychobiology, after analyzing the records of a group of chimpanzees housed at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Humans raised the chimps after rejection by their mothers. One group was allocated 4-5 hours a day of individually “mothering” while others were given basic human care.

The scientists noted that the cognitive development at nine months of those who received extra care was much higher than the other group. They also performed better than infants in orphanages in Greece and Romania.

The researchers think that the research implies that primates are similar enough to humans when they are young that they should be used as models to perform experiments in childrearing.

Primate experts approved the research.

“They are extremely social animals like human beings were hundreds of thousands of years ago. They are tribal. Chimpanzees and orangutans have similar development to humans cognitively – physically they are leaps and bounds ahead,” said Alison Cronin, of the Monkey World rescue center.

“They leap around and grip far earlier than a human. They cling to their mothers when humans are still being carried,” she added. “They learn quickly that they are the centre of the group. They realize early what they should and should not reach out and touch.”

Many scientists think that other primates have more intelligence than chimps. A Harvard study in 2007 discovered that orangutans and gorillas have the best problem solving skills of all animals.

There is more research primate intelligence associated with social contact. Orangutans in Sumatra were found educating one another on how to build tools, play games and blow kisses. The animals made leaf rain hats and roofs for their beds.

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