"Next up on Channel 4, Come dine with me: Chimpanzee tea party edition."
Just give it some time, because according to the findings of new studies by Harvard and Yale universities, the chimps are keen to get in the kitchen.
No - scientists from Harvard and Yale haven't left a clan of chimpanzees in a kitchen with a set of raw ingredients and an open oven. Their scientists and anthropologists have been researching how the act of cooking food helped shape the path of humankind's development.
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In order to assess the influence burnt nibbles would have on human ancestors, the researchers turned to a group of chimps, due to their similarity with our early ancestry, to carry out some simple tests. The New York Times has a full explanation of the process:
"We invented this magic cooking device," Dr. Warneken [of Harvard University] explained in an interview: two plastic bowls that fit 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.
It was known that chimps prefer cooked food, but it was an open question whether chimps had the patience to wait through the pretend "shake and bake" process. And, the researchers wanted to know if the animals could understand "that when something raw goes in there it comes out cooked," said Dr. Warnaken.
The chimps showed a number of indications that, given a real cooking opportunity, they had the ability to take advantage of it. They resisted eating raw food and put it in the device, waiting for cooked food. They would bring raw food from one side of a cage to the other in order to put it in the device. And they put different kinds of food in the device.
Now, all of this could be put down to behavioural learning and food preferences: the chimps, being highly intelligent, will have learnt that by waiting for an extended period of time, their food would improve. So if you left a chimpanzee with a single-button microwave, it could learn to "cook" its own meals, improving the flavour of raw food with the magical box.
We can't seen scientists leaving chimps with raw chicken and naked flames to test the theory further any time soon - particularly as Dr Warneken states that chimps lack the social skills required to develop cooking skills - but what the study has made clear is that our hairy brethren have the intelligence to realise burnt potatoes taste a lot better than raw ones.
[Via: The New York Times]