Great apes bond over videos, study claims

The favourite videos of the chimpanzees in the study? Videos of other chimps, of course!
great apes bond "Let's watch that episode again, Jim!" "I want to, but I, uh, forgot my password..." (© Pixworld - Dreamstime.com)


Did you see the part halfway through with the snake? I totally didn't think she'd actually cross the bridge, right? And the dance at the end? Whoop! Whoop! Hahaha!

If you've ever sat and watched a favourite show or video with a friend, then you know that the best part is not so much the actual watching but what comes next. Now that you both have this common experience, you can talk about it. And laugh, too. Scream, cry, complain, dance...

This shared experience sets off something very primal deep within our brains. It's a huge part of being human.

But is it just humans who feel this way? Maybe not...

Chimpflix!

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Chimpanzees share about 99% of their DNA with humans. (Getty Embed)

A new study by researchers from Duke University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology claims that great apes bond over watching videos together. The study mainly used pairs of chimpanzees, though it also used bonobo pairs (a close relative of the chimp), as well as a chimp paired with a human.

In each case, the chimp duos were shown videos of chimps doing various activities. (Apparently, chimps like reality TV best — Chimp's Got Talent!) The chimps were also given grape juice to help entice them to stay. In addition, eye-tracking technology was used to prove that the chimps were really watching the videos, not just sitting there by the screen.

Let's hang out

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"Okay, we brought snacks. Fire it up!" (Getty Embed)

The result? Whether chimp-to-chimp, bonobo-to-bonobo, or chimp-to-human, the study found that great apes bond after watching these videos. And what does this mean exactly?

Obviously, the chimps weren't talking about their favourite scenes. Instead, the scientists recorded 'increased social activity'. This was measured as touching each other, staying close for a longer period of time, and paying attention to each other. In all cases then, the video-watching great apes hung out and interacted longer than the pairs that hadn't watched the videos.

So big picture, what does this mean? Should we be getting Netflix subscriptions for the chimps in our lives? Is screen time actually a good thing? Well, it's a bit more complex than that...

This isn't about the videos as much as the act of sharing watching a video with another. So that thrill that we humans get from binge-watching a season with a buddy? It may be part of a more ancient, primal tradition than we realize — something that helped animals establish bonds with each other.

So, who wants to come over and watch the new season of The Dragon Prince? Bring snacks!


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  1. Well, that was a little weird. I mean, who knew great apes can watch videos together? Maybe this is one way us humans are descendants of apes.

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