Playful minds: Gorillas play games just like we do

January 22, 2010

( -- Gorillas play competitive games like we do, helping to keep games going and even giving younger friends a fair chance, according to the latest research. The study, by psychologists at the University of St Andrews, helps trace the evolutionary origins of how humans understand each other.

Dr Joanne Tanner and Professor Richard Byrne watched at play to learn more about how apes are able to take account of each other's aims and abilities. The results trace the evolution of human ability to take the perceptions and goals of others into account, back to 6 million years ago.

The researchers watched gorillas play games involving balls, bags and leather pieces as the focus of attention, typically with play partners changing possession of a play object many times.

Professor Byrne commented, "Just like we would, the gorillas used gestures and displays of the object to keep the action going, and if the game slowed down or stopped a gorilla would use varied tactics to get it going again.

"The players were also considerate of others' abilities: an older and more skilled gorilla seeming to realise that if it used all of its potential, the younger one wouldn't be able to compete, so the older gorilla would slow down the pace."

This kind of shared activity and joint attention with another person begins around 9 months of age in humans. Although this process has been suggested to be unique to humans, there have been some previous signs that our closest relatives among the African great apes might also show similar abilities. As a result of the new study, scientists can map the evolution of this process back to the time that humans shared ancestry with gorillas, over 6 million years ago.

Dr Tanner added, "Though the age at which gorilla games begin may be later in gorillas than in humans, and may depend on the challenges and artefacts available in a particular group's habitat, gorillas definitely enjoy the same kind of sporting competition we do!"

The research is published by the journal Animal Cognition (January 2010)

Explore further: Uganda's gorilla population growing

Related Stories

World's most endangered gorilla fights back

December 5, 2007

In the wake of a study that documented for the first time the use of weaponry by Cross River gorillas to ward off threats by humans, the Wildlife Conservation Society announced today new field surveys to better protect this ...

Study garners unique mating photos of wild gorillas

February 12, 2008

Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology have released the first known photographs of gorillas performing face-to-face copulation in the wild. This is the first ...

Recommended for you

Threat posed by 'pollen thief' bees uncovered

October 9, 2015

A new University of Stirling study has uncovered the secrets of 'pollen thief' bees - which take pollen from flowers but fail to act as effective pollinators - and the threat they pose to certain plant species.

A better way to read the genome

October 9, 2015

UConn researchers have sequenced the RNA of the most complicated gene known in nature, using a hand-held sequencer no bigger than a cell phone.

Mapping the protein universe

October 9, 2015

To understand how life works, figure out the proteins first. DNA is the architect of life, but proteins are the workhorses. After proteins are built using DNA blueprints, they are constantly at work breaking down and building ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.