Chimps have cognitive ability to cook, say U.S. scientists

By: | Published: June 3, 2015 9:02 PM

Can chimps cook? Harvard and Yale university research scientists certainly think so, as they reportedly have both patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and to place it in a device for cooking.

Can chimps cook? Harvard and Yale university research scientists certainly think so, as they reportedly have both patience and foresight to resist eating raw food and to place it in a device for cooking.

Researcher Felix Warneken and Alexandra G. Rosati, both of whom are at Harvard studying cognition, wanted to see if chimpanzees had the cognitive foundation to help them to cook, and they found that while many primate species, including chimpanzees, have difficulty giving up food already in their possession and show limitations in their self-control when faced with food, chimps would give up a raw slice of sweet potato in their hand if they visualized the prospect of getting a cooked slice of sweet potato a bit later.

Their research, according to a New York Times report, grew out of the idea that cooking itself may have driven changes in human evolution, a hypothesis put forth by Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard and several colleagues about 15 years ago in an article in Current Anthropology, and more recently in his book, “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human.”

Wrangham argued that cooking may have begun something like two million years ago, even though hard evidence only dates back about one million years. For that to be true, some early ancestors, perhaps not much more advanced than chimps, had to grasp the whole concept of transforming raw into cooked.

Initially, at the start of their research, the scientists were wary of giving chimps access to real cooking devices. Then, they wrote in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, of coming up with a method of using two plastic bowls fitted closely together with pre-cooked food hidden in the bottom tub.

When a chimpanzee placed a raw sweet potato slice into the device, a researcher shook it, then lifted the top tub out to offer the chimp an identical cooked slice of sweet potato, which the mammal accepted.

The chimps showed a number of indications that, given a real cooking opportunity, they had the ability to take advantage of it. Dr. Rosati said that not only did the chimps have the patience for cooking, but that they had the “minimal causal understanding they would need” to make the leap to cooking.

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