Forthcoming in the Review of General Psychology is a piece describing some of the earlylanguage research with the chimpanzee Sarah (above) in the late-1960s and an effort to locate Sarah today. Details below.
“Finding Sarah: 49-Year Reunion With the Chimpanzee of David Premack’s Language Studies,” by James N. Olson & Linda M. Montgomery. Abstract:
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Sarah the chimpanzee was the primary participant in David Premack’s language studies initiated at University of California at Santa Barbara in 1967. The first author was an undergraduate assistant training Sarah from 1967 to 1969. This article describes some of the early work with Sarah and our recent search for her. Sarah’s whereabouts during the intervening years, and subsequent reunion with her in 2016 at Chimp Haven, a chimpanzee sanctuary in Louisiana, are described. It was found that despite her illness, Sarah engaged with the first author and demonstrated that she remembered him and the mechanics of the communication procedure that served as the foundation for testing Sarah’s cognitive reasoning abilities as they pertained to language. There was no evidence she remembered any of the 5 symbolic nouns that were presented during a matching-to-sample procedure. The authors expressed their gratitude to the staff at Chimp Haven for the excellent care of Sarah.
If you are a follower the Facebook page of the Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26 of the American Psychological Association) you will have seen their recent post of video from the Kellogg experiment (above). Luella and Winthrop Kellogg reared a female chimpanzee named Gua, alongside their infant son Donald for a period in the 1930s, comparing their respective development across species lines.
For anyone looking for some end of summer reading, Karen Joy Fowler‘s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves provides an interesting fictionalized account of the Kellogg’s experiment and its aftermath. Fowler, herself the daughter of an Indiana University professor of animal behaviour, discusses the influence of the Kellogg’s work on the book in an interview available on her website here. Although inspired by the Kellogg experiments, the novel alters several fundamental elements of the study. Fowler’s story is told from the perspective of a daughter raised with an ape sister, rather than a son. The story is described as follows:
Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”
Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.
A detailed review of the book by Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times can be found here.
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The Winter 2011 issue of the American Journal of Psychology includes a new translation of German psychologist Karl Marbe‘s work with the chimpanzee Basso (above). Marbe (right) began to work with Basso after the chimpanzee attracted great attention at the Frankfurt zoo for her apparent arithmetical skills. As Marbe describes in his autobiographical chapter in Carl Murchison’s series, History of Psychology in Autobiography,
This animal had brought thousands and hundreds of thousands of people into the Frankfort zoo to admire its arithmetical skill. Before her lay a pile of little tablets upon which the numbers from 1 to 10 had been written. Then the caretaker said, for example, “Basso, how much is 10 minus 8?” whereupon the chimpanzee took a tablet into her hand upon which stood the number 2. The caretaker thought that he had systematically instructed Basso in arithmetic, but then became convinced that, after all, her achievements were due not to instruction but rather to thought transference. The superintendent of the zoo was not able to account for the behavior of the chimpanzee. And when, while I was temporarily staying in Frankfort, I had occasion to see Basso at work, I too was completely at a loss.
Marbe came to undertake a number of systematic investigations with the chimpanzee in an effort to explain Basso’s arithmetic abilities. As in the earlier case of Clever Hans – the horse who could perform simple calculations – Marbe found that it was the subtle, unconscious movements of Basso’s keeper that were cuing the chimpanzee into the answers to the arithmetic questions being posed.
Read the English translation of Marbe’s account of his research on Basso in “Arithmetic in the Chimpanzee Basso in the Frankfurt Zoological Park Together With Remarks to Animal Psychology and an Open Letter to Herr Krall From Karl Marbe,” translated by Heidi L. Shaw and with an introduction by R. Allen Garner.
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