Monkeys favour music over screen time, say researchers

In the study at a zoo in Helsinki, white-faced sakis could trigger audio or visual stimuli on demand

Monkeys given their own “primate-focused” versions of Spotify and Netflix were more likely to choose audio stimuli over screen time, a study has found.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow and Aalto University in Finland set out to explore how a group of three white-faced saki monkeys at Korkeasaari zoo in Helsinki would respond to being able to trigger audio or visual stimuli on demand.

Infrared sensors were used to create three equally sized interactive zones in a tunnel in the monkey’s enclosure and the sakis would trigger either a video or a sound on a screen in front of them, which played for as long as they chose to stay.

Their interactions were recorded, and the sakis were found to trigger audio stimuli twice as much in total as visual stimuli – suggesting they would rather listen to the Arctic Monkeys than watch Planet of the Apes.

As the study progressed, their overall levels of interaction with both stimuli dropped, but their interactions with visual stimuli increased in comparison with the audio stimuli. In total, out of the three audio files they listened to music most (the others were rain sounds and traffic noise). Underwater scenes proved the most popular of the three video files, against competition from worm videos and abstract shapes and colours.

Touchscreen systems are designed to entertain and engage animals with interactions, stimulating cognition in ways comparable to activities they might undertake in the wild, helping to maintain their physical and mental health.

Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, of the University of Glasgow’s school of computing science, said: “Our findings raise a number of questions which are worthy of further study to help us build effective interactive enrichment systems.

“Further study could help us determine whether the short interactions were simply part of their typical behaviour, or reflective of their level of interest in the system. Similarly, their varying levels of interaction over time could be reflective of how engaging they found the content, or simply that they were becoming habituated to the tunnel’s presence in their enclosure.

“While they chose audio more regularly than video, the results weren’t statistically significant enough for us to know for sure what they prefer.”

The system, used in the enclosure for 32 days, is the first of its kind to offer monkeys a choice of stimuli, the researchers said. The sakis’ interactions were mostly short, lasting a few seconds each time as they walked or ran through the system – mirroring how they interact with more familiar elements in their enclosure.

Sakis are usually found in the lower canopy of the rainforests of Brazil, Guyana, Suriname and Venezuela.


Haroon Siddique

The GuardianTramp

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