New Research Shows That Apes Remember Their Friends

Chimpanzees and bonobos exhibit long-term social memories.

Jan 9, 2024


Study, Wildlife
Chimpanzees in a zoo.

(apple2499 /

It is generally assumed that humans are the only species that deal with the persistence of memory and the ability to remember friends and loved ones even if one has not seen them for a long period of time. But humans may not be alone. 

New research from Johns Hopkins University and the University of California, Berkeley has shown that apes also recognize their friends even when they have not seen them in years. 

Longest lasting social memory
The  study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science showed that chimpanzees and bonobos, like their human relatives, have long-term social memories. In fact, these apes have the longest lasting social memory outside of humans, reported CTV News.

Lead researcher, Dr. Christopher Krupenye, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, was inspired to create this research study due his sense over the many years that he worked with apes that individual chimpanzees or bonobos recognized him even if he hadn’t seen him in a while. 

“You have the impression that they're responding like they recognize you and that to them you're really different from the average zoo guest,” Krupenye told the Johns Hopkins University Hub. “They're excited to see you again. So our goal with this study was to ask, empirically, if that's the case: Do they really have a robust lasting memory for familiar social partners?”  

Eye-tracking technology
In order to test whether apes remember their friends, CTV News reports, the researchers printed photos of chimpanzees and bonobos who had died or left zoos in Edinburgh, Scotland, Belgium, and Japan. Then they showed those photos of the animal’s former group mates alongside photos of stranger apes to the participating animals at the zoos. 

Using eye tracking technology, the researchers were able to ascertain that the apes spent more time looking at their friends than they did at the apes they were not familiar with.

The research team believes that apes’ long term social memory can stretch back at least twenty six years, reported CNN. Additionally, they believe that this may indicate that like humans, chimpanzees and bonobos can miss their friends and families. 

Whatever the case, it is clear that this study shows that apes are more similar to humans than previously thought. So the next time you visit the zoo take some time to befriend your local chimpanzees and bonobos. They may just remember you for many years to come.

Squirrels Have Personality Traits Like People
Study Shows Pigs React to Music With Emotion
New Study Shows that Chimpanzees Share Experiences

Tiki is a freelance writer, editor, and translator with a passion for writing stories. She believes in taking small actions to positively impact the world. She spends her free time reading, baking, creating art, and walking her rescue dog.