Saturday, January 16, 2010


Upbraid [verb] (uhp brayd)
  1. To scold sharply

While I may not speak the language, I can tell that that chimp is upbraiding that researcher.  The chimp sits in front of a tube with grapes in it, howling at the glass separating itself from the researchers.  To say the least, the chimp is not content with not getting the grapes out of the tube.

It's Saturday morning and I find myself captivated by The Human Spark, a three-part PBS series hosted by Alan Alda.  The series aims to find out what makes us human, and this particular segment does so by showing us what is almost us: chimpanzees.  

As someone who has spent little time researching the education of children or even the development of the brain, it's fascinating to see how humans follow the "monkey see, monkey do" mentality of learning.

For example, a research places a dice in a tub behind a curtain.  She opens the curtain so the young child can see the tube.  The child tries to get the dice out, and ends up looking at the researcher expectantly.  The researcher show the child how to get it out and quickly takes the tube back behind the curtain.  She sets up the tube again and presents it to the child.  Without hesitation, the child gets the dice out just as she was shown.  And was very happy about it, to boot.

In mere seconds, the child learned through a social interaction, copying the action she was taught precisely.

The chimps didn't do that.  The chimp got the grape out of the tube eventually, but not by watching a human and not by watching another trained chimp. 

It would seem that humans are more influenced by how others do things.  Hence our tendency to upbraid each other for breaking the mold. 

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