Chimps can learn to cook

From NPR: Chimps Are No Chumps: Give Them An Oven, They’ll Learn To Cook.

If you give a chimp an oven, he or she will learn to cook.

That’s what scientists concluded from a study that could help explain how and when early humans first began cooking their food.

“This suggests that as soon as fire was controlled, cooking could have ramped up,” says Alexandra Rosati, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and a co-author of the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Evidence suggests early humans learned to control fire between 400,000 and 2 million years ago.

Rosati and Felix Warneken, a psychologist at Harvard University, carried out the study at a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. First, the researchers gave the chimps a device that appeared to work like an oven. [continue]

3 thoughts on “Chimps can learn to cook

  1. I feel that the authors of this study have been a little generous in their definition of what “cooking” constitutes. I don’t want to diminish the feats of the chimps involved but for me, this study suggests that primates express a preference for cooked food when it is available and are prepared to perform rudimentary actions to ensure they receive cooked food. Call me a cynic, but I’m not convinced this is the same as being able to cook one’s food.

    The chimps’ ability to delay gratification and even store food until a “cooking” device becomes available is quite amazing.

    I love reading about chimpanzees and their language learning abilities so thank you for posting this.

    • I wonder how the chimps perceive the whole thing.

      Have you heard about Nim Chimpsky? I read a book about him a few years ago. It was fascinating, but I found it very sad as well.

  2. Thanks for this link to Nim Chimpsky. I read Roger Fouts’ ‘Next of Kin’ about Project Washoe about ten years ago I suppose and found it fascinating and was aware of some of the attempts to discredit these studies but was pleased to read more about Nim Chimpsky. I agree that what became of Nim’s life after the language learning experiments sounds truly awful.

    Ultimately, I feel the controversy surrounding primate language learning is so intriguing because it forces us to question precisely what constitutes language and also potentially challenges the traditional claim that humans have some special quality about them that makes them the only species able to learn language. A little humility is good for all of us occasionally!

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