Chimpanzees as Actors Leave a Harmful Impression

Screenshot via YouTube

It's no secret that the cutest, most widely recognizable animals tend to be the most likely to benefit from humanity's capacity for conserving nature, though it turns out that not all exposure is good exposure. According to the latest research on chimpanzees in media, people really seem to love seeing their closest primate cousins on TV and in movies, but doing so may actually be negatively impacting our perceptions of them -- lulling viewers into believing all is well in the chimp world, when in fact the opposite is true.A study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, was conducted by a team of researchers from Duke University into the effects viewing chimps in acting roles, an all too common advertising tool intended to elicit humor or lightheartedness. And what they discovered flies in the face of preconceived notions that the more an animal is seen, the more protected they will be. Evidently, an abundance of chimpanzees on TV and in movies has lead some to forget that in the wild the animals are endangered.

"We wanted to test this argument that showing chimpanzees with people and in human settings actually makes people more sympathetic to their plight," says one of the study's authors, biologist Brian Hare, via Science.

To test their hypothesis, researchers presented a group of 165 participants with one of three types of videos featuring chimpanzees: an educational piece outlining their endangered status, a series of commercials with chimps as actors, and control footage of chimps in the wild. Afterwards, participants were asked to fill out a questionaire regarding their feelings about chimpanzees:

Results from a post-viewing questionnaire reveal that participants who watched the conservation message understood that chimpanzees were endangered and unsuitable as pets at higher levels than those viewing the control footage. Meanwhile participants watching commercials with entertainment chimpanzees showed a decrease in understanding relative to those watching the control footage. In addition, when participants were given the opportunity to donate part of their earnings from the experiment to a conservation charity, donations were least frequent in the group watching commercials with entertainment chimpanzees.

In other words, instead of leading the viewing public to feel more sympathetic to the plight of endangered chimpanzees, or even neutral, such TV and film spots are giving the false impression that chimps do not require support. Meanwhile, in the wild, the animals continue to face threats from poachers, habitat loss, and disease -- and there's nothing cute about that.

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More on Chimpanzees
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Tags: Animals | Endangered Species

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