Now even the great apes are getting in on debunking "fake news"—or, to be more specific, fake beliefs. German researchers have found that the primates can tell when a human is wrong about something, and can even help to remedy the situation, which in this case was assisting a human in finding an object mistakenly believed to be in one location but actually in another, AFP reports. The study published in the PLoS One journal, which revamped a test usually administered to 18-month-old human babies, sought to see if the 34 chimps, bonobos, and orangutans at Germany's Leipzig Zoo could understand if a human was harboring a false belief, believed to be a sign of advanced social cognition apes weren't previously believed to possess.
A press release lays out the experiment, which involved the apes watching while Person A put an object under one of two boxes, then either stayed in the room and watched (the "true belief" part of the experiment) or left the room (the "false belief" part) while a second person then moved the object to the second box. In both cases, Person A then went to the original box to try to open it, ostensibly not knowing in the false-belief cases the object had been moved—and in those false-belief cases, the apes, who'd been observing the whole thing and had been trained to unlock the boxes, tried more often than would be attributed to chance to guide the humans to where the object really was. These results are said to be the first to show that apes can use this "mind-reading" and apply it to their social interactions, the researchers write. (An animal expert says it's moral to keep apes in a zoo.)