Monkeys prefer music to screen time, say researchers | wild animals

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

Researchers from the University of Glasgow and Aalto University in Finland set out to investigate how a group of three white saki monkeys at the Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki would respond to being able to activate 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 activated a video or sound on a screen in front of them, which played as long as they chose to stay.

Their interactions were recorded and the sakis were found to activate a total of twice as many audio stimuli as visual stimuli – suggesting that 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 decreased, but their interactions with visual stimuli increased compared to the audio stimuli. Of the three audio files, they listened to music the most in total (the others were rain sounds and traffic noise). Underwater scenes proved to be the most popular of the three video files, against the competition of worm videos and abstract shapes and colors.

Touchscreen systems are designed to entertain and engage animals in interactions, stimulate cognition in a manner similar to activities they might engage in in the wild, and help maintain their physical and mental health.

dr. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, of the University of Glasgow School of Computer Science, said: “Our findings raise a number of questions worth further study to help us build effective interactive enrichment systems.

“Further research could help us determine whether the brief interactions were simply part of their typical behavior, or a reflection of their interest in the system. Likewise, their varying levels of interaction over time may be a reflection of how engaging they found the content, or simply that they got used to the tunnel’s presence in their enclosure.

“Although they chose audio over video more often, the results were not statistically significant enough to know for sure what they preferred to do.”

The system, used in the enclosure for 32 days, is the first of its kind to provide monkeys with a choice of stimuli, the researchers said. The saki’s interactions were usually brief, lasting a few seconds each time they walked or ran through the system — a reflection of how they interact with more familiar elements in their enclosure.

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

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