Monkeys recognize old friends and family decades apart, study shows | Science and technology news



Monkeys recognize pictures of friends and family they haven’t seen for more than 25 years, researchers have found.

Some even respond enthusiastically to images of missing mates, demonstrating the longest-lasting social memory ever documented outside of humans.

Professor Christopher Krupenye, of Johns Hopkins University, said it not only suggested familiarity, but that the primates keep track of the nature and quality of specific relationships.

“This work clearly shows how fundamental and long-lasting these relationships are,” he said.

“Disruption of these relationships is likely to be very damaging.”

Ape recognized sister after 26 years

Professor Krupenye’s team was inspired to research the monkeys’ memories after sensing that they recognized them, sometimes even after long absences.

They worked with chimpanzees and bonobos in three zoos around the world, including Edinburgh Zoo.

The researchers collected pictures of monkeys that had either left the zoos or died, and gathered information about the relationships they had had with those still in the zoo.

The monkeys they showed the pictures to had not seen them for at least nine months, and in some cases much longer.

One bonobo who took part in the study, named Louise, had not seen her sister Loretta or nephew Erin for more than 26 years and showed a particular interest in pictures of both of them.

The monkeys were shown pictures of old friends and family members side by side with pictures of strangers, and the researchers used eye-tracking to judge their interest in them

The monkeys looked significantly longer at former groupmates, regardless of how long they had been apart.

Could monkeys miss old friends?

Lead author Laura Lewis, from the University of Californiasaid the study’s findings were comparable to how relationships shape people’s memories.

This could indicate that monkeys even miss old group mates.

“The idea that they remember others, and therefore they can miss those individuals, is really a powerful cognitive mechanism and something that has been thought to be uniquely human,” she added.

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Researchers hope the findings will shed new light on how deeply affected monkeys can be when poaching and deforestation separate them from their friends.

They also plan to investigate whether these long-lasting social memories are special to great apes or something other primates experience, and whether they have similar lasting memories for experiences as well as individuals.

The peer-reviewed results have been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.


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