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The fact that non-human primates seem to like touchscreen computers as much as their human counterparts has been known for some time now - After all, the orangutans and gorillas of the Milwaukee Zoo have been 'enriching their lives' with iPads since 2011. Now, a new study asserts that exposing the animals to these devices not only makes their lives more interesting, but also, helps them relax and become friendlier.
The discovery was made by scientists from the University of Portsmouth whilst conducting psychological research on a group of macaques at Marwell Wildlife in Hampshire, England. The non-human primates make good human substitutes for studying the subject because they are almost as intelligent and thanks to the dexterity of their hands, can use many of the same devices.
For this particular study, the scientists set up touchscreens with some matching tasks for the monkeys to complete. For positive reinforcement, each time they answered a question correctly, the animals were rewarded with a healthy treat. The primates were allowed to go play with the computers whenever they felt like and leave, when they had enough.
After observing the behavior of the macaques for a period of time, the researchers discovered that the temporary departure of one or a couple of the monkeys from the group seemed to ease the tension for the animals that remained behind, enabling them to become better friends. They believe that this might be due to the fact that the macaques that repeatedly went to the computer were the dominant members of the group. Their leaving helped the rest relax, resulting in fewer conflicts.
While that was interesting what was even more so, is that the monkeys that had a chance to interact with the computers seemed to be much happier too - One of the ways the researchers are able to gauge the mood of the animals is by the amount of 'lipsmaking' - that is pursing their lips and moving their lower jaws up and down rapidly - the monkeys do. In this case, the brood that was part of the experiment seemed to increase their lipsmaking exponentially or by large amounts, leading the scientists to conclude in the report published in the scientific journal PLOS One on November 6th, that there was increased harmony and cohesion within the group. In other words, a little computer time was resulting in some happy monkeys!
Indigenous to Indonesia, the Sulawesi Crested Macaques are social animals that possess strong communication skills and live in small groups on the floor of the tropical forests and mangrove swamps. The omnivorous animals live off bark, roots, fruits, as well as, insects and other invertebrates, small reptiles and even bird eggs. Like many of their counterparts, they are on the critically endangered list of animals, thanks to poachers that hunt them down for food and loss of habitat.
Resources: theconversation.com, dailymail.co.uk