21 Chimpanzees’ Intelligence

Based on Research by Wolfgang Kholer, Ph.D.. Psychology Science Minute written by Sarah W. Arnett, Psy.D.

Psychology Science Minute brought to you by the School of Psychology at Florida Institute of Technology, I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.

 Psychologists do not just study humans, but also animals, including our closest primate relatives, the chimpanzee. Psychologist Wolfgang Köhler became inspired to study chimpanzees in the early 1900’s based on the fact that the anatomical and chemical structures of their brains were more similar to human brains than to those of lower apes. Kohler’s work on the intelligence of apes was a turning point in the psychology of thinking.

Kohler designed scenarios where chimpanzees were placed in cages with bananas more than an arms lengths away.  They used sticks as an extension to their own arm length to obtain their dinner. In another situation food was placed high out of reach but the chimpanzees stacked available boxes and climbed up to rescue their dinner. Kohler concluded that chimps engaged in problem solving, not through trial and error, but instead through insightful thought. The chimps experienced an “aha moment” where they realized the solution and then carried it out through purposeful movement.

Once humans were thought the only species smart enough to solve problems and use tools. However, chimpanzees were also revealed to be capable of insightful thought. Kohler attributed this delay in our true understanding of primate intelligence to our inability to assess it appropriately. What else is out there waiting to be discovered?

That’s your Florida Tech Psychology Science Minute. I’m Dr. Sarah Arnett.


Classic study:

Köhler, W, Winter E, translator (1925) The Mentality of Apes. New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, Inc.

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