As a research assistant at the CoPan I am (currently) working on a project that aims to investigate attentional bias towards emotions. An attentional bias towards emotions can be a very useful tool for social animals (like us humans) because it enables us to quickly focus on the most relevant information that is provided by our surroundings. For example, an individual in a social group might be happy because there is access to a new food source, while a fearful group member might be an indication that there are dangerous predators around. Research shows that humans possess such a bias, especially when these emotions are negative emotions, such as fear or anger. One of our close relatives, bonobos, also possess an attentional bias towards emotions. However, in contrast to humans, bonobos have an attentional bias towards positive emotions. So far, this type of attentional bias has not been found in chimpanzees, our other close relatives. Therefore, I am training two chimpanzees in Tierpark Nordhorn (Germany) to participate in an experiment that can measure their attentional bias. This will give insight into when in our evolutionary history an attentional bias towards emotions may have evolved and how different social dynamics may lead to differences within a trait that is shared by different species.
To measure attentional bias in chimpanzees, an emotional dot-probe task is presented on a touchscreen. This task has also been used to measure attention bias in humans and bonobos. An additional goal of this project was to use this task and the experimental setup as enrichment for the chimpanzees, in the hopes of improving their welfare. To read more about this project, see the news section (link?)