Oct. 16, 2013 at 6:32 PM ET
When 16 chimps from the Yerkes National Primate Center in Georgia encountered Robota, a doll who made pre-recorded chimp sounds from her chest, they tried to befriend her and talk to her, and they even banged on their cages to invite her to play.
"In one case, a chimp laughed at the robot while gesturing 'play,'" Marina Davila-Ross, a psychology lecturer at the University of Portsmouth and part of the team who watched the chimps interact with Robota, wrote in Ars Technica.
Two chimpanzees, Faye and Jarred, offered the robot "toys," she writes. Almost all the chimps tried to communicate with the bot using gestures or facial expressions, Davila-Ross and her co-authors note in a new study in Animal Cognition.
The chimps were particularly interested when the bot — to the extent that it could — mimicked apelike movements. They were less interested when her movements seemed more human.
For anyone who's surprised that our primate relatives seem smitten with a robotic playmate, remember that we form bonds with robots, too. Studies have shown that robotic pets were sometimes more successful than live ones at engaging elderly adults.
When it comes to robotic companions, chimps and humans seem to agree on one thing: So what if they're not real?