News Release

Seen once, never forgotten

You don't have to be human to like a good horror flick, Kyoto scientists show

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Kyoto University

Cannot Be Unseen

image: An ape viewer (upper left) intently watches a test film, anticipating that a researcher dressed in an ape costume will emerge from the right-hand door (as indicated by red, eye-tracking dots). view more 

Credit: Kyoto University

Kyoto, Japan -- Having once seen the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller Psycho, who can forget what happens next?

And it turns out that aside from humans, great apes (in this case, chimpanzees and bonobos) also remember events in films -- and can anticipate what takes place in memorable scenes.

Researchers at Kyoto University's Wildlife Research Center, writing in the journal Current Biology, adapted eye-tracking technology for the apes, enabling the team to record how the apes were viewing various video clips.

"When shown a video for the second time, after a 24-hour delay, the apes clearly anticipated what was coming next," explains first-author Fumihiro Kano. "This demonstrates their ability to encode single-experience events into long-term memory."

The team began by creating two series of short films, King Kong Attack and Revenge to King Kong, in which the apes are shown a familiar sort of environment where rather shockingly unfamiliar events take place. For example in the first series, two doors are visible, but an attacking 'King Kong' (in reality, a researcher dressed in a Kong costume) only emerges from the right or left side. 24 hours later, when shown the film again, the apes' attention focused on the side they had seen previously, even before Kong emerged.

Previous studies in this area have been based on prior long-term training of apes.

"What makes our result unique is that the apes encoded the information after only one viewing," says Satoshi Hirata, a senior member of the team. "This ability should help them avoid impending danger, interact socially, and navigate complex environments."


The paper "Great Apes Make Anticipatory Looks Based on Long-Term Memory of Single Events" will appear in the 5 October 2015 issue of Current Biology, with doi:

Kyoto University is one of Japan and Asia's premier research institutions, founded in 1897 and responsible for producing numerous Nobel laureates and winners of other prestigious international prizes. A broad curriculum across the arts and sciences at both undergraduate and graduate levels is complemented by numerous research centers, as well as facilities and offices around Japan and the world. For more information please see:

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