Tue 25 May 2010: 4pm – “Do apes really not get the point of human communicative behaviour?”

“Do apes really not get the point of human communicative behaviour?”

By Dr Nick Mulcahy

Tue 25 May 2010: 4pm
Seminar room 1 (S2-04-11) (see map)
Block S2, Level 4
Department of Biological Sciences
National University of Singapore

Host: Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz,
Research Fellow, Terrestrial Ecology Lab

About the talk – Understanding others’ communicative intent is one of the hallmarks of human behaviour. Whether other animals also share this ability has attracted a great deal of research activity. Key to this research is the so-­called object-­choice task in which subjects are required to locate a hidden reward by observing a human’s communicative cue, such as pointing towards the correct location. Dogs can easily use the cue to locate the hidden reward whereas apes typically fail.  One popular explanation for this finding is that the domestication process allowed dogs to evolve a specialized set of cognitive skills for understanding human communicative behaviour.   

I will propose an alternative, albeit prosaic, theory to explain the differences between the dog and ape object-choice data. In support of this theory, I will present new findings from studies conducted with orangutans housed at Singapore Zoo.   

About the Speaker – Nick studied evolutionary psychology before gaining his PhD in ape cognition at the Max-­Planck Institute, in Leipzig, Germany. He has published research in areas of future planning, causal understanding, communicative behaviour and  insightful tool use. Nick is currently a Research Fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia.

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