Thursday, February 21, 2008

America's Next Top Genius Ape

Wednesday night was Television Night. Dorkchic got me into America's Next Top Model because she might be evil, and the new cycle started that night. Lest my IQ drop too far, we planned to watch Nova directly afterwards. Little did I know how comparable these two shows would be.

On the Model show, there was pushing and screaming and crying; women were being held off from having actual physical fights within the first few hours of meeting each other. We were witness to pettiness, arrogance, stupidity, greed, immaturity, and instability all rolled up into 35 women aged 18-24. It makes me proud of my gender.

On Nova, it was "Ape Genius," where there was teamwork, culture, love, grief, learning, and snacking. Researchers are learning about the capabilities of the ape brain and finding that it far surpasses what we had initially thought. Observation of chimpanzees over the decades has even forced us to reevaluate our definition of "human." It was an excellent program that made me look at my nearest relatives in the animal kingdom in a new way.

In the Nova program, they showed studies that were done first with human children and then with chimps. In one study, they had to watch the researcher go through a series of tasks to get to the gummi bear. Both chimp and kid were able to get the treat. I wonder if the models would have been able to do it. The treat would probably have to be something other than a gummi bear though. Maybe a cigarette or a packet of Sweet-n-Low.

Another study dealt with delayed gratification. The kids were shown two plates. One had a single gummi bear on it, and the other had five. They were told that if they waited until the researcher came back, they could have five gummi bears, but if they wanted the single gummi bear right away, they could ring the bell and eat it. One kid ate the gummi bear before the researcher was even out of the room and then rang the bell. This study was originally done with cookies by sociologist Walter Mischel. I have not seen the tapes, but I guess that one little boy just sat there in front of the single cookie and wept. But he waited.

I could not picture the models participating in this experiment because I doubted that they would understand the instructions, and I could not imagine that they would be tempted by sweets in any case. I do think, however, that perhaps the 14 models remaining from ANTM should be put through some of the chimp experiments in which they use teamwork to procure food, pass on survival skills though copying and observation, and assist humans in accomplishing tasks.

In exchange, Miss J can teach the chimps to walk on heels, work their runway walks, and style their own photoshoots. If the models can understand the pointing experiment, where they must choose the cup that is pointed to in order to get the prize (again, an inappropriate snack), demonstrating the ability to share new discoveries, then they will be ahead of the young bonobo who found the experiment deathly boring and rolled around, exasperated, knocking over cups and not cooperating at all.

I can picture quite a few of the models reacting in the same manner as the bonobo to a number of different situations; time will tell.

But I don't think that ANTM was quite what Darwin had in mind.

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