Netflix for monkeys: Scientists stream on-demand art videos to primates

No Bridgerton, but white-faced saki monkeys really enjoy watching wriggling worms.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

A white-faced saki monkey has a snack at the Korkeasaari Zoo in Finland.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Zoo life is very different from the wild life, and animals are in danger of getting bored in captivity.

Scientists are exploring a new way to enrich the lives of white-faced saki monkeys at the Korkeasaari Zoo in Helsinki, Finland. The team, led by researchers from Finland's Aalto University, built a plywood and acrylic box with a monitor that played videos. 

The monkeys could choose to use the device to access a rotating selection of videos of worms, sea creatures, other zoo animals, abstract art or forest scenes. The system was equipped with sensors and a camera to capture data on how the monkeys used it. The animals triggered the videos by stepping into the box.

The element of animal choice and control was one focus of the study published this week in the journal Animals.   

"We learned that the monkeys do pay attention to the screen; they watch it and touch it," said co-author Vilma Kankaanpaa. The researchers also learned the monkeys could recognize objects on the screen when the animals attempted to eat the digital worms they were watching.   

Since there is no monkey version of television Nielsen ratings, the researchers monitored the viewing action to see how the animals reacted. "They spent most of their time watching slithering worms or underwater scenes but these were also the videos accessible at the middle of the study, when they were accustomed to using the device, but it was still fairly new," said Aalto University in a statement on Tuesday.

There may have been a positive impact on the monkey's wellbeing during the study based on a notable reduction in scratching behavior that can indicate stress. "While a causal link between specific activities and animals' stress levels cannot be made, one thing is sure: different types of stimuli gives them new things to do, which is important for their wellbeing," said Aalto University.

This study is one more entry in a growing field of research into technology's potential impact on animals. Scientists have shown SpongeBob SquarePants to dolphins and orangutans have been making use of tablets for years. 

MTV may be past its prime, but we could be entering a new era for MonkeyTV.

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