Apes Possess Mental Ability Previously Thought Unique to Humans

December 6, 2016

Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article. 

1. infer / ɪnˈfɜr / (v.) – to make a conclusion about something based on evidence
Example: We inferred from his tone that he was angry.

2. misconception / ˌmɪs kənˈsɛp ʃən / (n.) – a wrong belief
Example: It is a common misconception that tomatoes are vegetables.

3. counter / ˈkaʊn tər / (v.) – to oppose something, such as an opinion or belief
Example: The new evidence countered the old findings.

4. costume / ˈkɒs tum / (n.) – something worn to look like a different person or character
Example: He wore a dinosaur costume at his son’s birthday party.

5. skeptical / ˈskɛp tɪ kəl / (adj.) – showing doubt about something
Example: During the presentation, she asked a lot of questions because she was skeptical.


Read the text below.
A new study suggests that some species of great apes can infer others’ thoughts about a situation.

For a long time, scientists believed that the capability to recognize others’ desires,   misconceptions, and thoughts was unique to humans. However, the results of a study conducted by researchers from Duke University, Kyoto University, the University of St. Andrews, and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology countered this belief. The study showed evidence that, like humans, orangutans / ɔˈræŋ ʊˌtænz/, bonobos, and chimpanzees recognize that the thoughts of others are different from their own.

For this study, the researchers made the apes watch a video that shows a man chasing a man in costume. The first man sees the costumed man hide behind a hay bale. The man leaves for a moment, and while he is gone, the costumed man sneaks out of the hay bale. The first man later returns to the hay bale to look for the costumed man since he believes that the person is still there.

The researchers observed that the apes stared at the place where the costumed man had hidden. While the apes knew that the person had already left his hiding place, they were also able to infer the first man's thoughts that the costumed man was still there. The fact that the apes were staring at the hiding place may indicate that they recognize that the first man's thoughts are different from their own.

Christopher Krupenye [KROO-pen-ahy] of Duke University said that apes are the first animals to pass such a test. He added that this discovery could lead to a deeper understanding of how much the species understand each other.

On the other hand, Robert Lurz, a philosophy professor at Brooklyn College, is skeptical of the findings. In an interview, he explained that the apes could have learned the man’s actions through repeated observation without actually understanding his thoughts.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.  

Discussion A

·         Do you believe in the study’s findings? Why or why not?
·         Do you think that it is important to study how animals think? Why or why not?

Discussion B

·         What animals do you consider smart?
·         What makes you say that they are smart?

December 6, 2016