Thursday, November 01, 2007


This is not a derivative of pig latin or a small town or a typo. Washoe is a chimpanzee, but not any old chimpanzee. She was the first animal that learned sign language. This was a historical milestone in the scientific community. She demonstrated the ability to learn sign language from humans. The scientists use a form of conditioning called operant conditioning. Every time Washoe employed the proper movement with her hands, she was positively reinforced with stimulus such as tummy tickles. She exhibited the ability to associate a movement with an object or action. The conditioning led Washoe to build a vocabulary of 250 words. That is 225 more words than what I am capable of signing. It is a complex language people!

As if that is not astounding enough, she was able to impart her skills to three other chimpanzees without any assistance from humans. I find Washoe accomplishments exceptional, although it does not surprise me. The DNA of Chimpanzees is similar to 96 to 98% of human DNA. While two percent difference is clearly evident it does give some stipulation to the theory that humans evolved from chimpanzees. In the 42 years that Washoe has roamed the earth, she has made her mark. Now for the bad news, Washoe has closed her eyes for the last time on October 30, 2007 but her achievements will never be forgotten.

Since I am an avid animal lover, with the exception of insects because I suffer horribly from entomophobia, the feats of all living creatures never cease to amaze me.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Thanks for posting this! I am also an animal lover! I've always been fascinated by the thought of talking chimpanzees and apes and would love to hear what they have to say. :-)