Sign Language Experiments

One topic from the text that I found interesting was the sign language experiments. Experimenters first decided that chimpanzees would be best to first test if animals could “talk” since they share many similar characteristics to humans. After it was discovered that chimps were not able to produce speech that was understandable, they wanted to test if they were able to perform other forms of languages. In these experiments, experimenters would teach chimpanzees sign language through day-to-day activities. Teaching through day-to-day activities allowed for it to be learned in a similar way that human children learn language. Therefore, these chimps would be raised like humans are. The first study was called Project Washoe where the chimp was named Washoe and was raised by two experimenters. Washoe was successful at learning sign language which led to more studies being conducted in order to try to replicate the findings from Project Washoe.  

I found this piece to be very intriguing since often animals are thought of to be “stupid” and cannot understand human language. These studies show that communication with animals is possible, and they are intelligent. This part of the text also discusses the best ways to train these apes was through modeling and molding. Modeling is when one demonstrates the sign while performing what the sign is about and molding is when the put the ape’s hand in the right position then associate that position with the object being discussed (Powell et al., 2017). This could be proved to be useful in further teaching of language for both humans and animals alike. Many people are teaching their babies from early ages ASL to be able to communicate with them prior to verbal language being developed. People are also teaching their pets other ways to communicate. An example I have seen of this is owners laying buttons down that say a phrase when pushed. A person’s animal will push it to let them know what they want. After reading the textbook, I furthered my studies on this topic and found a video on another ape named Koko who was taught ASL after Project Washoe. I found watching the apes have conversations with humans through ASL to be even more fascinating than just reading about it. 



Powell, R. A., Honey, P. L., & Symbaluk, D. G. (2017). Introduction to Learning and Behavior (5th ed.). Cengage Learning. 


  1. Hello Lauren, I really like your post because of how interesting and informative it is. It is amazing that they were able to teach chimpanzees sign language. Animals are often thought to be stupid but it has been found that they are actually really smart. Just because chimps can not pronounce words, does not mean they don't understand what you are saying. This is similar to dogs when you teach them different commands. They show you they know what you're saying by performing that certain command. I would love to see similar studies done on more animals. Have a great summer!


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