According to the findings of a recent behavioral study, chimpanzees have the mental capacity and the cognitive skills required to comprehend the benefits of cooking food. Furthermore, it seems that they are not only able to specifically tell the difference between raw and cooked food items, but they have actually expressed their preference for cooked food, for which they are willing to wait.
The study was conducted by scientists from Harvard University and was performed at the Tchimpounga Chimpanzee sanctuary, located in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their experiments were especially determined to study whether or not chimpanzees posses the specific cognitive features required for acknowledging cooking as an improvement to raw food.
The animals were therefore presented with several food options from which they had to chose their favorites in different circumstances. First, they had to chose between one slice of raw sweet potato and one slice of cooked sweet potato and it looks like they chose the cooked food every time, even those slices that were only barely cooked.
This was one aspect that the researchers were expecting to encounter, as there is previous data demonstrating the preference that the chimpanzees have for the cooked food. Then, they decided to go deeper and put there preferences to further testing that involved their patience abilities.
And so, the chimps were presented with a four slice system. They learned that they would receive one slice of raw sweet potato immediately, but that they would get three slices if they waited one minute. And when presented with raw food only, they chose the immediate serving.
However, in the next phase of the experiment, the chimps were provided three cooked slices of sweet potato, instead of three raw ones. This has proved to make some of them take the time to wait for the cooked food.
Then, a “cooking” device was introduced to the experiment. It did not actually cook the food, but it did exchange raw slices of potato with cooked ones, thus making the chimps believe that the process happened inside the device. And they loved it. They would wait for the device to “cook” the raw potato slice, rather than eat it as it was immediately.
Actually, they liked it so much, that they even took the time to carry raw slices all the way across their cages in order to get it “cooked”. What this proved was that the chimps have the mental capacity necessary to understand the benefits of cooking, which they used as incentive for learning and putting up with the entire cooking process.
This bares great importance because the chimpanzees are some of the closest beings to the early stages of humans and such experiments relay their mindset to a certain extent and the reasons that drove them to learn how to control fire.
Furthermore, it appears that not being able to use fire was actually one of the main reasons why chimpanzees never learned to cook their food, despite the fact that they are perfectly capable of understanding there is a process behind the cooking of the food. They have proven to take the time to use it, in conditions that do not involve fire at least. But what was made perfectly clear is that they prefer the cooked food.
In order to prove that they understood that the “cooking” device was the one changing the state of their normal food, the scientists mentioned that the chimps only put in the raw slices of potato that they wanted to cook and not anything else, like leaves or sticks.
The complete study was recently published in the British journal Proceedings of the Royal Academy. Its findings relay that chimpanzees cannot physically cook their food, but that they have a clear preference for the cooked version rather than the raw one, if presented with the opportunity and that they are willing to wait for it, much like any teenager out there who can’t cook.
Image Source: sciencerecorder.com