Monday, September 19, 2011

An Audience With Koko The "Talking" Gorilla

I’d been told beforehand not to make eye contact initially as it can be perceived as threatening, and so I glare at the ground. But I can’t help stealing brief glances at this beautiful creature. Koko, if you’re not familiar, was taught American sign language when she was about a year old. Now 40, she apparently has a working vocabulary of more than 1,000 signs and understands around 2,000 words of spoken English. Forty years on, the Gorilla Foundation’s Koko project has become the longest continuous inter-species communications programme of its kind anywhere in the world...Some skeptical researchers have argued that Koko does not understand the meaning behind what she is doing and simply learns to sign because she’ll be rewarded – known as operant conditioning. In the 1999 PBS Nature documentary, A Conversation With Koko, Dr Patterson admits that in the beginning she, too, thought Koko was simply doing it to “get stuff”, but the gorilla began stringing words together to describe objects she didn’t know the signs for. more

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