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Ape Memory

July 23, 2013

Like humans, chimpanzees and orangutans can remember events that took place years in the past.



Probing ape memories. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

An orangutan uses a tool to retrieve food. (Gema Martin-Ordas)

Does a particular scent or a favorite song trigger specific memories for you? Turns out, apes may share our ability to recall memories on cue. In an experiment, chimpanzees and orangutans received food rewards for paying attention to where a researcher placed a tool. Three years later, the researchers presented the apes with a cue associated with that event. Aarhus University psychologist Gema Martin-Ordas says the animals remembered the exact locations of the tools.

GEMA MARTIN-ORDAS (Aarhus University in Denmark/Max Planck Institute, Leipzig):

And they did it really fast in 5 seconds. When you provide the apes with appropriate cues, they can trigger these memories as fast as humans will do.


She says this is the first time non-humans animals have been shown to recall events that took place so long ago.


I was really surprised that they remembered the event that happened 3 years ago.


I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Learn more about this study