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Friday, March 7, 2014

Bow Identifies Muppet Emotions

Today, Bow went out several times. The last time, he invited me to join him outside by patting me on the back in a friendly way and gesturing toward the pen where the ice on the floor was rapidly melting and turning to water. But I had no shoes on and wanted to finish something on the computer, so I said: "Thanks for inviting me, Bow, but I really don't want to go out right now."

After I finished what I was working on, I scanned the Facebook feed and saw a Sesame Street parody of Les Miserables.

I started watching the video, and Bow, who was lounging on the bench outside, was attracted by the music and voices from my laptop. He asked to come back in, and after he was in the inner pen he led me to the glass and spelled:
                                           תני לי לראות
                                           "Let me see."

I took the laptop in and played the video for him.

Bow had no trouble identifying the emotions of the muppets on the screen.  He could tell who was sad, who was happy, and what music was good for a rousing march. When Cookie Monster decided to share the cookies with everyone, Bow looked pleased.

Bow is definitely not autistic. He has a theory of mind. I can no longer watch serious movies with him, because the feelings of the characters in the movies upset him. But this version of Les Miserables  was just short enough and at the right level for a happy and successful viewing experience.


  1. Glad to see a video where Cookie Monster is acting like his name-sake, eating cookies. I have not seen Sesame Street in many years, but I heard on more recent episodes that Cookie Monster was not allowed to be as indulgent with the cookies because they thought it was a bad example for kids.

    1. It's a pretty good parody, considering the obvious limitations of using muppets. Cookies substitute very well for bread, and the simplistic message comes through loud and clear.

      The only thing I ever worried about with Cookie Monster setting a bad example is that he didn't actually eat the cookies and you could see him spitting out large pieces. I did not want anyone in my family to eat like that.

      Bow really enjoyed this video, and there was nothing in it that was lost on him.

  2. That's pretty amazing that Bow can pick up on the feelings of muppet characters, given how hard it is to express emotions in their faces. I suppose the music combined with the voice intonations help him detect their emotions, but still ...pretty amazing abilities for a chimpanzee!
    By the way, I was watching "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" yesterday and thought of you. Have you seen it, Aya? Pretty interesting theory...

    1. Hi, Kathy. Bow is pretty good at picking up cues in voice quality, and he is very attuned to the emotional meaning of music. Of course, in this skit, Cookie Monster was made to be unusually obtuse at picking up on cues "It's hard to tell what she is feeling with all that crying" -- but you can see that Bow is immediately saddened and upset by the woman who is crying about not having a cookie to give to her daughter, and he does not cheer up till we switch to a different character.

      I did see "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" on DVD -- without Bow, of course. It would have really upset him. Some parts of it were good, but personally I prefer the older Planet of the Apes movies. I also think chimpanzees are plenty smart as they are and do not need a medicine to alter their brain chemistry.

  3. Ha! I love Cookie Monster. :)

    I'm visiting today from Susan's Silly Sunday hop. :)

    1. Thanks! Who doesn't like Cookie Monster? He's so honest.