spontaneous classification

A new study suggests that orangutans (and one young gorilla) may be more capable of identifying types of animals than we had previously given them credit for. In the 1700’s Carolus Linneaus gave two names to each species, organizing species for the first time. He classified them in a hierarchical system, starting broad with kingdom, phylum, class, then getting more specific with family, genus, and finally the most specific, species. It took humans an embarrassingly long time to become so organized and look more critically at the animals we share our planet with.

A study was recently conducted where 4 Sumatran orangutans and one western lowland gorilla were presented first with images of several different types of primates, like gibbons and lemurs, and different types of gibbons and lemurs and the great apes were tasked to tell if, when pictures were put side by side, if they could tell if the primates were similar or different. They were worked with about 4-5 times a day roughly 3 days a week, and identified the animals with about 60% accuracy.

In the second experiment the apes were given pictures from different taxonomic groups like reptiles, bird, insects and mammals and they were able to put them into group almost immediately. The orangutans identified the different classes with 60-80% accuracy from the beginning of the study. Not to mention that most of these apes had very little experience working with touch screen questionnaires.


They preformed at the same efficiencies that are assumed to humans.


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