Chimps Know Who They Are When Playing Video Games

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For humans, associating with video game characters is second-nature. I ducked. I jumped. I fell off a cliff and died.

As it turns out, chimpanzees are capable of similar associations. At Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute in Japan, scientists discovered that chimps become aware of their digital avatars when playing video games, according to LiveScience. (In other news, chimps freakin’ play video games.)

Testing involved a simple game in which adult female chimps dragged a white circle into green rectangles, using a track ball underneath a touch screen. But here’s the trick: each screen had two white cursors, one controlled directly by the track ball, and one whose movement was based on the chimps’ previous interactions. The chimps would receive a treat for touching the screen whenever the white circle collided with the green rectangle, but only if it was the circle they were controlling directly with the trackball.

The chimps correctly identified their own white circle avatars 99 percent of the time. Researchers concluded that chimps perceive self-agency in a manner similar to humans. The tests could provide insight into humans’ evolution of self.

Even so, the conditions for this test have to be just right. When researchers introduced a delay in trackball response, or changed the angle of cursor movement, chimps fared much worse in identifying their own avatars. That could mean chimps’ self-agency is affected by factors not evident to humans, and that’s what the Primate Research Institute wants to figure out next. Hopefully, testing of chimps on Portal 2 co-op is not far behind.

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