humans and monkeys are very different in a wide variety of respects, but they share basic thought patterns regarding the structure of language, according to a study involving specialists from the University of California at Berkeley, University of California. Harvard and Carnegie Mellon University.
They may not be able to communicate through a common language, but both species are capable of developing recursive structures. This is the name given to a linguistic resource that makes it possible to relate phrases and concepts within a larger structure, using reference mechanisms and repetitions that “spin” the parts of a whole.
This function is crucial in the development of language and thought. Now, North American specialists have come to a very interesting conclusion: Non-human primates would be able to handle recursive structures as humans do, according to the results of recent research comparing the behavior of three study groups.
According to a press release from the University of California at Berkeley, experts conducted tests in a community of native Amazonians in Bolivia, among adults and children in the United States, and specimens of macaque monkeys. The studies especially took into account the differences of species, culture, and age, seeking to find common patterns in the structures of thought.
Participants had to memorize a sequence of symbols in a specific order to establish relationships, analogous to the operation of recursive structures applied to language. In the case of the group of children and adults from the United States and the group of monkeys, a touch screen was used to perform the test.
On the other hand, since the original peoples of Tsimane, in Bolivia, do not have a strong relationship with current technologies, different cards and paper figures were used with them. When the tests were carried out correctly, the participants received different positive stimuli: sound signals in the case of the American participants, snacks for the monkeys, and verbal expressions with the native Amazonians.
The researchers started from a hypothesis shared by many scientists: although humans and monkeys register multiple brain differences and certain capacities are characteristic of the human being, at the same time there are neural similarities that have their counterpart in thought structures that both species share.
Thus, the results of this study show that all groups of participants, to different degrees and with different characteristics, managed to order and solve their tests using mechanisms typical of recursive structures. The researchers highlighted that in the specific case of monkeys, they may learn to represent a recursive process with sufficient training.
In this way, it is verified once again that the animal world still holds many surprises for the human being regarding the limits of his potential in terms of thought, self-awareness, communication, and language, among other areas.