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Guide Index

Keeping the Peace

Chimp Manners

Monkey See, Monkey Do?

Chimps Count

Finger Food

The Mating Game
in the classroom
TEACHING GUIDES


PRIME-TIME PRIMATES:
Monkey See, Monkey Do?


Both human and nonhuman primates use tools. For example, chimpanzees crack nuts with rocks and use twigs to dig for termites. But there's a crucial difference in how the two species learn to use tools. Psychologist Mike Tomasello sets up an experiment to compare young orangutans and young children. He discovers that even highly intelligent primates lack a critical key to learning that people have -- the ability to imitate.

Curriculum Links
Activity 1: Stereoscopic Vision in Primates
Activity 2: If I Only Had a Thumb
Think About It!



CURRICULUM LINKS

ART


creativity, design
BIOLOGY


anatomy, physiology
LIFE SCIENCE

primates
MATHEMATICS


logic, problem solving


PHYSICS

experimentation, mechanics
PSYCHOLOGY


learning
SOCIAL STUDIES

anthropology,
culture, invention
TECHNOLOGY


invention,
tool manipulation



ACTIVITY 1: STEREOSCOPIC VISION IN PRIMATES

PROCEDURE
  1. Work with a partner to try this experiment. One person is team member A, the other team member B. You'll need a cup and some coins or POG chips.

  2. Place a small cup in the middle of a desk.

  3. Person A stands several meters away from the cup. Person B stands close to the cup, holding a coin in hand.

  4. Keeping eyes at cup level, person A closes one eye and directs the other student to align the coin just above the cup. When person A thinks the coin is directly above the cup, s/he gives person B the command to drop it into the cup.

  5. Repeat this step five times. Record the number of hits and misses.

  6. Repeat the activity using both eyes. Do you observe any difference in the outcome? Explain.


QUESTIONS
  1. Was your judgment more accurate with one or both eyes open? Explain.

  2. What's the evolutionary advantage of stereoscopic vision?

  3. How does primate vision compare with that of other species?

  4. How might better vision enable the use of tools? Why do you need stereoscopic vision to see the "Magic Eye" and other 3-D pictures?


ANSWERS:
  1. Both. Two eyes increase depth perception (stereoscopic vision).

  2. With greater depth perception, primates can move better in treetops.

  3. Eyes of higher primates are larger, face forward and see colors. Depth perception is increased. Vision replaces smell as the primary sense.




ACTIVITY 2: IF I ONLY HAD A THUMB

MATERIALS
  • masking tape
  • toothpicks
  • stopwatch


PROCEDURE
  1. Working with a partner, spread out several dozen toothpicks on your desktop.

  2. Time how long it takes for each person to pick up the toothpicks. Repeat the activity, picking up the toothpicks three times. Record and average the results.

  3. Tape the thumb and index finger of one partner together.
    Repeat Steps 1 and 2.

  4. Exchange roles and repeat the activity.


QUESTIONS
  1. What was the average time for picking up the toothpicks with an unobstructed thumb?

  2. What was the average time for picking up toothpicks with a taped thumb?

  3. How can you account for the difference in times? (Answer: The fully opposable thumb increases grasping ability.)




THINK ABOUT IT!
  • Why do you think tree-dwelling primates evolved an opposable thumb? How does the primate hand structure compare to that of other animal species?

  • What is culture? How is a society's culture passed from one generation to the next? Do you think chimps have a culture? Why or why not?

  • Think about the tools and technology you have learned how to use. Who taught you? How did you learn the skills you have to function in society? Which of those skills do you think you will pass on to another generation?









 

Scientific American Frontiers
Fall 1990 to Spring 2000
Sponsored by GTE Corporation,
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