Amare, a 16-year-old gorilla residing at the Chicago Zoo, had to get help from the trainers to solve a problem of obsession with visitors’ smartphones.
Smartphone addiction is a far from trivial social issue among humans, and especially among the youngest. But what is much less obvious is that this gadget does not only interest our species; At the Regenstein Center for African Monkeys, a sub-structure of the Chicago Zoo, it is a young gorilla who worries his keepers because of his fascination with these small devices.
The information, revealed by the Chicago Tribune then spotted by SciencePost, has something to smile about. It actually appears thatAmare, a 16-year-old boarder, has developed a particularly strong interest in these objects. So much so that it starts to spin true obsession; he is consistently captivated every time a visitor shows him a photo or video on his device.
A true obsession
This is a behavior that has already been documented in many monkeys; after all, we share a distant common ancestor and parts of our brains are built relatively similarly. It is therefore not surprising that smartphones are also very stimulating for monkeys: they see them not only as a small luminous device, but understand that the images they see there have meaningas seen in this video (captured in another zoo).
“We know these monkeys can interpret, translate a 2D image on a screen into something real”, explains Stephen Ross, a primatologist specializing in cognition and behavior in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. And this is especially true for Amare who, like any self-respecting teenager, is particularly comfortable with this technology. The problem is that he has developed a such fascination that he started to spend most of his time at a strategic location in its enclosure, precisely where he was most likely to see a piece of screen pass.
A decline in social relationships
Over time, he apparently became increasingly distracted and disconnected from his three housemates. It was at this stage that his social relations with his congeners began to suffer. However, this is a big problem, since it misses many social interactions that are essential to cement its place in the group.
A situation that could make him the scapegoat of his congeners, or even lead to “severe consequences on the level of its development”, according to the healers. They therefore decided to intervene. “At this point, we had to do something to help Amare make better decisions about his screen time.,” Ross tells the Chicago Tribune.
They therefore made the decision to install a safety zone to prevent Amare from being captivated too easily. They also added explanatory signs asking visitors to respect the greening of Amare.
A little help to get out of the vicious circle
The researchers expected Amare to put up some resistance. After all, in humans, the smartphone can generate a true addiction in good standing; in some extreme cases, those who are separated from it can experience withdrawal effects characterized by anxiety, insomnia and even a form of depression.
But fortunately, this was absolutely not the case with the gorilla. He does not appear to have a withdrawal syndrome; according to the healer, this means thatit wasn’t a real addiction, physiologically and neurologically speaking. He was just very intrigued by the screens. But this boost apparently reminded him of everything he missed spending his days in the corner of the enclosure, and the trainers have already noticed that the situation is starting to improve.
“Amare begins to realize that it’s not worth spending all day in his corner waiting for a visitor to show him his smartphone”, says Ross. He also notices that the person concerned gradually regains a taste for the classic activities of his species, particularly with regard to social interactions.
All is therefore well that ended well for Amare; and according to Ross, there are even some lessons to be learned from it. The one who is himself the father of several teenagers is in any case convinced of it, and affirms it in conclusion of his interview with the Chicago Tribune. “Understanding what prompted him to develop this behavior, and how we helped him make the right decision on his own… it’s part of our human condition!”