Fauna - Pretend Play in Chimpanzees

Pretend Play in Chimpanzees

Recently, the BBC aired a wonderful video about play with stones in wild chimpanzees which we know as pretend play. This is also the area of my research into the ways that chimpanzees use the signs they acquired from humans and other chimpanzees.

This systematically examined the ways that captive signing chimpanzees engaged in this type of play. The chimpanzees signed to dolls and stuffed animals. For example, Dar put a stuffed animal to his side and signed TICKLE. They used toy objects as if they were real. In one instance, Moja held a phone to her ear and moved her mouth and pressed buttons as if dialing. They pretended one object was another. As another example, Moja put a purse on her foot and signed SHOE.

This BBC story provides multiple observations of chimpanzees treating rocks as if they are babies. Before now the record on pretend play in wild chimpanzees has been sparse. There are differences between the play of girls and boys. After decades of research, there is still so much to learn from wild chimpanzees.

The Young Chimpanzees who Pretend Play with Dolls

Watch the video to see chimpanzees playing with stones and hear primatologist Richard Wrangham of Harvard University describe his findings.



Egan, T.E. & Jensvold, M.L. (2015).  Pretend Play in Signing Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).  In T. Wagner, (Ed.), Animal communication and cognition:  Principles, evolution, and development (pp. 57-85).  New York:  Nova.
Jensvold, M.L.A., & Fouts, R.S. (1993). Imaginary play in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes).  Human Evolution, 8, 217-227.