Elisa Bandini and Sofia Forss

Early Career Award 2022: Ape Research Index

Whether it is stage acting or handling a power tool, how well we master a task depends on our previous experiences — and the same applies to our closest animal relatives, the great apes.

The idea that practice makes perfect is still rarely considered when it comes to studying the cognitive abilities of great apes. “A lot of research today is carried out with small groups of captive chimpanzees,” says primatologist Elisa Bandini from the University of Tübingen. “These apes are often tested on an almost daily basis, which, in all likelihood, impacts their behavior and cognition.” An experienced chimpanzee will probably perform better on subsequent tasks.

However, findings are often generalized to a species-wide level and even used to inform hypotheses on human behavior and cognition. Within the scope of the Ape Research Index (ARI) meta-study, Elisa Bandini and Sofia Forss from the University of Zurich strive to pin down bias by quantifying the impact of an ape’s previous experience in research. “ARI will help researchers in primatology, psychology, biology, and related disciplines assess their findings and provide them with a concrete tool to increase the robustness, transparency, and reproducibility of data."

Read more about the Ape Research Index in the blog of our media partner PLOS.