Chimpanzees possess the cognitive ability to cook food, claim scientists from Harvard and Yale Universities. Their study concluded that chimpanzees have the patience and foresight to avoid eating raw food and put it in a device which, according to them, is able to cook it. These findings (which are also available in a video) could be important as chimpanzees are supposedly closely related to humans.
Chimpanzees have the patience for cooking
The experiment was designed by scientists Felix Warneken and Alexandra G. Rosati, who wanted to find out if chimpanzees have the cognitive foundation that could be developed to make them cook. But since they are incapable of using fire or any other cooking equipment, this posed one of the major problems in the experiment. So, to get around this, the scientists invented a “magic cooking device.” Warneken explained this as a set-up of two plastic bowls fitted together, with the bottom bowl hiding the pre-cooked food. When a chimp placed a raw sweet potato slice into the bowl, the researcher pretended to cook it by shaking the device and then offered an identical cooked slice to the chimp.
In this way, the researchers devised nine different experiments to evaluate the cognitive abilities of the animal. Since it is already known that chimpanzees like cooked food, they wanted to find out whether the animal is able to wait through the shaking process and, more importantly, if they realize that the raw slice that is put into the device will come out as cooked. Eventually, it was found out that chimps not only have a tolerance for cooking but also possess the “minimum casual understanding” required for them to be able to cook.
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Could help in studying human evolution
The research was inspired by the hypothesis proposed by Dr. Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard, which states that cooking might have contributed to changes in human evolution. Brian Hare of Duke University claimed that the paper strengthens Wrangham’s idea, which at one point seemed “silly.” Other scientists studying cognition in chimpanzees have also applauded the research.
However, Laurie Santos, who was once the postdoctoral adviser of Dr. Rosati, opined that it is difficult to figure out the level of chimps’ understanding regarding the process of cooking. Also it is still unclear whether chimps could really operate ovens or not. But irrespective of this, the research does signify an important development and could possibly contribute to the study of human evolution.