to Open New Lab to Study Cognitive Function in Chimpanzees
The Yerkes National
Primate Research Center at Emory University soon will open one of the
few laboratories in the world dedicated to studying chimpanzee cognitive
The Center is building a
300-square-foot facility equipped with video touch screens for conducting
research experiments on cognition and emotion involving individual chimpanzees
or interacting pairs. Researchers in adjoining rooms will be able to
observe the animals through reinforced glass.
Modeled on a similar laboratory
at the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto, Japan, the new lab will
allow Yerkes to expand its research in the field of comparative cognition
and emotion. By studying how chimpanzees perform tasks that test abilities
including face recognition, memory, and problem-solving, scientists
expect to gain insight into aspects of human cognition especially
how it develops in infancy and childhood and changes with age.
The lab will be headed by
Stuart M. Zola, Ph.D., Director of the Yerkes Center, and Lisa Parr,
Ph.D., a research associate in the Center's neuroscience division. Dr.
Zola specializes in memory and problems of memory related to aging,
injury, and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. Dr. Parr studies
social processing in chimpanzees and is particularly interested in how
chimpanzees perceive emotion.
"The opening of this testing
facility will allow Yerkes scientists to use the latest technologies
to answer some key questions about the similarities and differences
between human and chimp cognition and emotion," Dr. Zola said.
The major advantage of the
new facility is that it provides a distraction-free environment for
chimpanzees performing cognitive tasks. Most of the chimpanzees at Yerkes
live in pairs or groups, making cognitive testing in their home cages
impractical. The lab also will be used to train chimpanzees to undergo
functional imaging, so that scientists can observe brain activity in
the animals while they are awake.
The cognitive lab will add
a critical element to the Center's already extensive research program
in cognitive research with chimpanzees. Among the Yerkes scientists
studying different aspects of chimpanzee cognition and emotion are Frans
B. M. de Waal, Ph.D., who closely observes interactions such as reciprocative
behaviors and conflict resolution in large social groups of chimpanzees;
and Bill Hopkins, Ph.D., who employs both behavioral studies of motor
function and communication and magnetic resonance imaging to identify
key brain systems in the great apes.
Yerkes has a long history
of chimpanzee research, dating back to its founding in 1929 by Yale
psychobiologist Robert M. Yerkes. The Center has about 180 chimpanzees,
most of which were born at Yerkes or elsewhere in captivity. Chimpanzees
are used in behavioral and biomedical studies at Yerkes, and are important
to research in reproductive biology, immune function, infectious diseases,
age-related cognitive decline, and genetics.
One of eight National
Primate Research Centers funded by the National Institutes of Health,
the Yerkes Center of Emory University is a multidisciplinary research
institute recognized as a leader in biomedical and behavioral studies
with non-human primates. Yerkes scientists are developing vaccines for
AIDS, malaria, and other infectious diseases, and treatments for cocaine
addiction, Parkinson's disease, and cardiovascular disease. Other research
programs focus on age-related cognitive decline, childhood visual defects,
organ transplant rejection, and the social behavior of primates. Many
Yerkes scientists are affiliated with the Emory Vaccine Research Center,
the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience, and the Center for AIDS Research
at Emory, and Yerkes research programs encompass collaborations with
researchers from medical centers and scientific institutions worldwide.
The Center has 3,000 non-human primates and 2,500 rodents housed in
facilities on the main Emory campus and at a 117-acre Field Station
in Lawrenceville, Ga.