Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Ape Mind Initiative (AMI)

Francys SubiaulFrancys Subiaul

The Ape Mind Initiative (AMI) is a program funded by the National Science Foundation and directed by Francys Subiaul of George Washington University. The program will:

  • Establish two post-doctoral positions for the purposes of furthering comparative cognitive research and educating the public about primate cognition
  • Offer students the opportunity to be interns at the National Zoo while participating in research
  • Present a yearly public lecture led by a renowned great ape scientist once a year in addition to daily research presentations at the National Zoo’s Think Tank by a research scientist (Post-Doc or PI).

The AMI program will lead to rare educational opportunities for students from high school to post-doctoral. And, because a large portion of the proposed research will be conducted at the National Zoo’s Think Tank—a world-renowned center dedicated to studying the diversity of animal minds—this project will have a significant impact on the greater DC area and the nation as a whole.

A significant portion of the funded proposal, “CAREER: The Evolution of Cultural Learning,” will be conducted in the Think Tank and the Ape House of the National Zoo. The research will target a number of questions concerning how apes (gorillas and orangutans) learn from others in order to gain insights into the uniqueness of human cultural learning. Some of the questions that will be addressed by  Subiaul, his colleagues and student interns in the National Zoo include: What factors differentiates human and non-human ape imitation? Are species differences in imitation performance best explained by differences in how they copy different types of stimuli (e.g., motor, cognitive, spatial), by memory differences or both? Which of these aspects of the imitation faculty are shared with humans? We hope that answers to these questions will elucidate the nature of imitation and its relationship to human cultural uniqueness.