Great apes’ understanding of biomechanics: eye-tracking experiments using three-dimensional computer-generated animations

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Visual processing of the body movements of other animals is important for adaptive animal behaviors. It is widely known that animals can distinguish articulated animal movements even when they are just represented by points of light such that only information about biological motion is retained. However, the extent to which nonhuman great apes comprehend the underlying structural and physiological constraints affecting each moving body part, i.e., biomechanics, is still unclear. To address this, we examined the understanding of biomechanics in bonobos (Pan paniscus) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), following a previous study on humans (Homo sapiens). Apes underwent eye tracking while viewing three-dimensional computer-generated (CG) animations of biomechanically possible or impossible elbow movements performed by a human, robot, or nonhuman ape. Overall, apes did not differentiate their gaze between possible and impossible movements of elbows. However, some apes looked at elbows for longer when viewing impossible vs. possible robot movements, which indicates that they may have had knowledge of biomechanics and that this knowledge could be extended to a novel agent. These mixed results make it difficult to draw a firm conclusion regarding the extent to which apes understand biomechanics. We discuss some methodological features that may be responsible for the results, as well as implications for future nonhuman animal studies involving the presentation of CG animations or measurement of gaze behaviors.


  • Primates

    Primates 62 (5), 735-747, 2021-09

    Springer Nature

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