If a movie is doing its job correctly, then it can leave a lasting impact on its audience — and no shortage of emotions. Unpleasant as it may be, fear is one of them, and maybe one of the most powerful; there’s no better way to bring a man to his knees than with a good scare. But a group of Japanese scientists had a different goal in mind; more importantly, they had a different species as their audience.
Psychologist Fumihiro Kano wanted to test if apes could remember certain events and instances, and how well they could manage the task. To find out, he used a group of chimpanzees and bonobos, had them watch a trio of horror movies made by him and his peers, and then tracked both their gazes and reactions. It’s an unusual setup, but one that yielded plenty of information. Kano and his crew created a film where a monster would burst from a door and attack, scaring the apes. The films that followed had similar scenarios and scenes — so naturally, the apes remembered what happened and looked at the spot where the monster would presumably appear.
Kano’s conclusion is that apes — already gifted with good long-term memory — can also learn and recall information based on specific events. The applications extend beyond watching horror movies, though; it could explain not only how apes adapt to their environments, but also how animals learn in general. Strange as it sounds, all it took to find that out was a good scare.