Study 3: Savage-Rumbaugh et al.

’s study of chimp language

Study 3

Savage-Rumbaugh et al.’s study of chimp language
key ideas
Sign language is a true language, it isn’t just a way to represent an existing spoken language manually, or merely a set of simple physical movements related to their meanings. Like any other language, it is a symbolic representation of ideas that can be linked together to add to the meaning of an utterance, using its own set of rules.

Savage-Rumbaugh, S., McDonald, K., Sevcik, R.A., Hopkins, W.D. and Rubert, E. (1986) Spontaneous Symbol Acquisition and Communicative Use by Pygmy Chimpanzees (Pan paniscus). Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 115(3), 211–35.
Naming versus knowing: what indicates a language has been learned? Prior to this study, the acquisition of language by animals had been studied in a range of ways. Chimpanzees had been shown to have some capacity to learn languages based on American Sign Language (ASL), symbols, or plastic tokens, using rewards. Furthermore, such chimps demonstrated communication skills including requesting, labelling and



You can see footage of the pygmy chimp Kanzi here: watch?v=wRM7vTrIIis watch?v=2Dhc2zePJFE watch?v=KxmvRpnVXJQ

comprehending, and, without further training, their language extended from associative references about the present to include: • referential symbol usage, and • communicating about what they intended to do (i.e. in the future). In these respects, the acquisition of language by apes resembles that of young children. However, some aspects of the language acquisition of apes differ from that of children, particularly in the need for repeated exposure and reinforcement to learn associations between symbols and their meaning. Children make the transition between associative and referential use spontaneously and quickly (Lock, 1980). If a child asks for a teddy, and the mother holds up a duck and says ‘what’s this?’ the child can answer, because they do not become confused between the symbol (the words ‘teddy’ and ‘duck’) and their respective referents. In contrast, SavageRumbaugh (1986) reports that two chimps – Sherman and Austin – could request things that they were unable to name, and name things they were unable to request. They required reinforced training to make the cognitive step to distinguish between naming and requesting. Following their training in referential symbol use and retrieving unseen objects, Sherman and Austin began to show spontaneous representational symbol use. This then appeared to follow the same pattern as is observed in children: • They began to initiate word games by selecting objects and offering the correct symbol without prompting. • They generalised symbol usage beyond the original context. For example, Austin referred to a chimp screaming outside with the symbol ‘scare’, which had been learned through a game involving pretend ‘scaring’, using a mask over the face. • Like Kanzi, they acquired some symbols without explicit training. • They assigned new symbols to foods and tools they had not encountered before. • They could make categorical judgements based on symbolic information only. For example, the ‘apple’ symbol would be placed in the ‘fruit’ category, even when no actual apples were present.

key ideas
Apes and young children are both capable of associative naming. This is the ability to link, or associate, certain symbols (e.g. sounds or signs) with specific objects. In contrast, referential naming is the ability to use these symbols to refer to those objects or activities. Although children rapidly acquire this language skill, it is unclear whether apes are capable of developing such understanding.


Figure 1.11 Austin and Sherman

Savage-Rumbaugh reports that Fouts et al. (1976) taught Ally the chimpanzee 10 different behaviours, which were, after training, consistently produced in response to 10 different spoken English phrases. Can you explain how is this different from the method used by Savage-Rumbaugh, and why this difference is important?




they also carried photographs. The inclusion of a word in a chimp’s vocabulary was operationalised by the following criteria: • Context-appropriate (i. two of which were also conducted on Austin and Sherman (with a somewhat different selection of symbols). If you can. They did this accompanied by researchers. The correct choice was always present. This included situations such as asking an individual chimp to pick up items one-by-one by name. The same stimulus was never presented consecutively on two trials. show your examples to a partner without giving them the contexts. Informal testing employed the words the chimps already knew.g. and was only repeated in a different test context within the same set of trials. such as hide. and Mulika aged 18 to 21 months. washing dishes. and became confused if they did not then receive it. the chimps were corrected. by a question.9 criterion were removed from the individual’s vocabulary. that the chimp responded to the subsequent situation in a way that indicated the word had been used correctly – for example. Find and copy out one example of each of the context types that were used to classify Kanzi’s utterances.’s study of chimp language Chimp environments Most of the pygmy chimps’ daytime hours in warm weather were spent outdoors. They frequently attempted to engage others in games. making bubbles and watching video tapes (‘subtitled’ with lexigram symbols) of familiar people doing interesting things. grab or tickle. including all those originally scored. and by hand when using the pointing-boards outside. Three or four choices were given for possible responses on each trial. There were four tests (see Table 1. The original coder and two new observers achieved 100% agreement on which symbols Kanzi used and whether they were in a correct context. Figure 1. • Number of alternatives. and nine utterances were identified by the new observers that were not originally identified in the real-time observation. if Kanzi asked to go to the treehouse. • Photographs of target items were varied so that each item (e. and for Mulika from 11 to 21 months. the word ‘treehouse’ would be added to his vocabulary only if he then led the experimenter there) • Behavioural concordance was achieved on 9 out of 10 occasions (in addition to the spontaneous 9 out of 10) Behavioural concordance was not inevitable (i. if errors were made. doing laundry and preparing food.e.7). Formal testing was also conducted. and eight were spontaneous. Play activities for the chimps included using clay. but the chimps could select a desired food or location by pointing to a photo or a symbol. was watched separately by two other observers. They also spontaneously helped in activities such as wiping up spills. on Kanzi aged 46 to 47 months.) Their scoring identified 37 utterances by Kanzi.5 hours of video tape. as they appeared to anticipate receiving the item they were asked to label in the test. Each utterance was scored in terms of : • Accuracy: – Correct – Incorrect • Context: – Spontaneous (without a prompt) – Imitated (containing any part of a companion’s prior utterance) – Structured (e. if Kanzi asked for bananas from the backpack and it contained only bananas. All nine of these utterances were correct.e. it made sense in that situation) • Naturally occurring situations • Spontaneously produced (not prompted) on 9 out of 10 occasions (but not necessarily on consecutive days) • Verified by behavioural concordance (i. No food was available in the laboratory. the pygmy chimps were asked to assist with activities. request or being shown an object). This was probably because the flow of social interaction is too rapid for every utterance to be acknowledged. it had to be possible for the chimp to give an incorrect response – for example.C1: C5: Cognitive Social psychology psychology Study 3: Savage-Rumbaugh et al. These situations did not use rewards and. spraying the hose or scrubbing the floor. the utterance would not be scored). To ensure that the recording of vocabulary items was reliable. imitated and structured. spontaneous. or asking which keys they were playing with if they were spontaneously engaged with the keyboard. The common chimps.g. unlike Kanzi and Mulika. • Words for which behavioural correspondence fell below the 0.13 Kanzi’s lexigram QUESTION SPOTLIGHT! What does the accuracy and spontaneity of Kanzi’s utterances in the reliability check indicate about validity? Is it likely that the observers were over-estimating the chimp’s accurate use of language? * 30 31 . which had been scored by a real-time coder. Can they identify which is which? A complete record of all keyboard utterances was maintained for Kanzi from 30 to 47 months. food type) appeared slightly differently in different photographs. These controls included: • Order and presentation of stimuli was varied to avoid unintentional cuing of responses by context.e. and carrying laminated pointing boards of lexigrams. Indoors. moving between 17 feeding stations within a 55-acre forested area. i. There was one disagreement between the new observers about whether an utterance was spontaneous or structured. (The real-time coder was unaware that the tape would be used in this way.e. such as changing bed sheets. 4. chase. This was done electronically by the keyboards when indoors. • Figure 1. were given food rewards during testing.12 The chimps could select their play activities. such as watching videos Data collection QUESTION SPOTLIGHT! Could you classify the following examples of utterances: •  A query from Kanzi about something he had seen in the wood •  A response by Mulika to the question ‘Which do you want?’ * nge Stretch & challe Look through the appendix of Savage-Rumbaugh’s original article. Controls ensured that the chimps’ test responses were valid. Initially.

Study 3: Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (2 marks) 6  From the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. described them well. When comparing. whereas common chimps can only communicate with broad categories. which common chimps seem unable to do – they have only been shown to ask for themselves. (6 marks) (e)  Outline the results of the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (6 marks) (c)  Give two advantages of the case study method as used in the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. identify two pieces of evidence that suggest pygmy chimps have a greater aptitude for symbol acquisition than common chimpanzees. Kanzi and Mulika were far more specific in their signs/lexigram. 44 45 . We say: 4 marks. (2 marks) 5 From the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. you should make sure you mention both groups so that it is clear what each of their abilities are.? (2 marks) (b)  Describe why the sample was selected for the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. and suggest one disadvantage of this sample. Give reasons for your answers. studied symbol acquisition by pygmy chimpanzees.’s study into symbol acquisition by pygmy chimpanzees. (a)  Identify two symbols Kanzi identified correctly using the lexigram keyboard before any training. as although Kanzi used the lexigram – the signs he used still needed to be recorded. (6 marks) (d)  Discuss strengths and weaknesses of the cognitive approach using examples from any studies that take this approach. T hey were able to identify symbols within categories. (4 marks) Section B (a)  What was the aim of the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. David – It is true that the symbols were written down – but you need to explain that this was when the lexigram was used outdoors and then they were added to the computer. A four-mark question does need some detail. identify two pieces of evidence that suggest pygmy chimps have a greater aptitude for symbol acquisition than common chimpanzees. and point out some classic traps to avoid. (6 marks) (d)  Give two disadvantages of the case study method as used in the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (2 marks) (b)  Explain why Kanzi was able to identify these symbols without training. You show exactly how the signs were noted. Ken. Carol’s answer: First.’s study into symbol acquisition. Section A 6 From the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. Well done. To get all the marks. to assess Kanzi’s language acquisition. the question asks for a comparison. study into symbol acquisition by pygmy chimpanzees: (a)  Identify two ways in which quantitative data was gathered. and have specific points of comparison.: (a)  Identify one reason why Kanzi was taught symbol acquisition as a means of communication.. Section A 1  Describe two of the formal tests conducted by Savage-Rumbaugh et al.’s study of chimp language QUESTION FOCUS We now show you some of the sorts of questions that could be asked about the Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (4 marks) 8  Give two reasons why pygmy chimpanzees were chosen as opposed to other apes in SavageRumbaugh et al.’s study into symbol acquisition by pygmy chimpanzees: (a)  What were the names of the two pygmy chimps studied? (2 marks) (b)  Explain why these pygmy chimps might not have been representative of their own species. Researchers could then work out if it was correct or incorrect in the situation. We say: 1 mark. (2 marks) 3  In the Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (4 marks) (c)  Describe one similarity and one difference between any studies that take the cognitive approach. (2 marks) 4 Savage-Rumbaugh et al. you have identified two different pieces of evidence from the study. Your points are also too brief. could be improved. Suzanne. (8 marks) Section C (a)  Outline one assumption of the cognitive approach. any signage or utterance made by Kanzi could be recorded on the lexigram attached to the computer so there was a record of it. (4 marks) 2 From Savage-Rumbaugh et al.this shows knowledge of the study and the specific detail from it. be sure to explain your point in a bit more detail. Susanne’s answer: Kanzi and Mulika used signs more spontaneously and were able to refer to other people. Kanzi and Mulika were able to ask for things that were for someone other than themselves. We will then show you some examples of the sorts of answers we believe might be successful and less successful. study in your exam. (2 marks) David’s answer: Symbols that Kanzi did during the day were written down Ken’s answer: For a period of 17 months. (2 marks) (b)  Outline one way in which the researchers recorded Kanzi’s symbol acquisition. (12 marks) Some answers & comments Section A 5 (b) Outline one way in which the researchers recorded Kanzi’s symbol acquisition. (2 marks) (b)  Describe how the cognitive approach could explain the acquisition of language. (4 marks) 7  Outline two ethical issues raised in Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (8 marks) (f)  Suggest how the study by Savage-Rumbaugh et al. (4 marks) We say: 2 marks. Second. and you have only mentioned one of the groups of chimps. (2 marks) (b)  Give two examples of quantitative data collected in this study. We say: 1 mark. Carol.

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