Authors of a new study in Developmental Psychobiology compared nine-month-old human babies to nine-month-old chimps who had received daily “mom sessions.” For 20 hours a week, humans would play with 17 of the orphaned infant chimps, helping them to develop motor skills and to “meet new challenges with curiosity instead of distress.”
The chimps were then given an IQ test, the same tool normally used to assess infant human development—and those receiving all the mommy time scored an average of almost 10 points higher than normal humans of the same age. Meanwhile, the 28 chimps raised in “standard care” scored an average of 7.5 points lower.
The chimpanzees who received “responsive care” continued to exhibit strong cognitive and emotional development throughout their youth. Those who received standard or institutional care, however—in which only physical needs were met, with no social or emotional care from human surrogate mothers—were less likely to become well-adjusted adults.
Infant chimpanzees, said Kim Bard, the psychology expert who led the study, appear to develop with a sense of emotional attachment similar to that seen in human infants. As such, the findings could have potentially important implications for human child development. “[Just] looking after an infant’s physical needs is likely to result in a child who is maladjusted, unhappy and under-achieving,” Bard said.
Which, granted, isn’t exactly groundbreaking news.