Tuesday, December 21, 2010

And Back To Chimps And Sticks

These popularizations of the original study are so fascinating! A new one on cnn.com has dropped the information that the play has been observed in only one chimpanzee group, not the others! That of course makes the "innate" explanation stronger. As I told you, this was going to happen.

On the other hand, new information has cropped up:

Boy chimpanzees typically used sticks as weapons, shaking them to intimidate playmates.

But just like human boys with "action figures," young male chimpanzees were sometimes seen playing with dolls as well.

Kahlenberg described one 4-year-old male named Kakama in an e-mail response:

"He was observed to bring his stick into his nest and play the 'airplane game' with it, that is, he laid on his back with his arms and legs extended upward and balanced the stick on his upturned palms and 'flew' it from side to side. This behavior is performed by mother chimpanzees with their infants and, of course, human parents do it as well. Another interesting observation is that Kakama even constructed a separate nest for his stick."
Now, the previous Mother Jones popularization said something different about that nest constructing:

* Once a young chimp built a separate nest for her stick.
So were there two cases of nest building? And if not, which sex built the nest?

What do we conclude from this new popularization?

It's just days till Christmas, and many young girls around the world will be thrilled to find little dolls under the tree to play with.

But there's new evidence that it's not only human girls who enjoy playing with imaginary babies -- young apes may be showing the same behavior.


So should this behavior in any way alter the way we perceive chimpanzees, and any affiliation with human behaviors?

"Regarding how this study is related to the sex difference that we see in how human children play, it has at the very least contributed to the discussion of the factors underlying these differences," Kahlenberg answered.

"Our results suggest that part of the explanation may lie in innate differences between males and females. Specifically, there may be differences in how the sexes play that shape how they interact with toys, including which types they prefer."

That finding would suggest there may be a genetic and gender-driven force behind the play.
Just to remind you: The other chimpanzee communities don't do this kind of play. And just to remind you, the chimpanzees are playing with sticks, not making dolls. And just to remind you, a different way of thinking about this is that the female chimpanzees use tools more often than male chimpanzees.

Those reminders go on deaf ears.
The comments to the cnn.com post include this one:
" Finally we can stop this idiotic "gender neutral toy" business."
See how this whole thing works? Also, my comments somehow appear to be stuck in moderation! Who would have thought.