Project Nim

    Nim Chimsky is a chimpanzee that would be taught sign language. He was put into a household setting with a family of humans that would be the ones to teach him sign language. He had human siblings, and he lived in New York. By the age of 2, they moved Nim from an apartment in New York to a Mansion at Columbia University because he was getting too reckless. By that point, he already knew about 125 signs. The people studying Nim realized that he mirrored the teachers signs, but he never actually did a sign on his own. In 1977, the experiment had ended and they put Nim Chimsky into an enclosure with other chimpanzees. At that point, they believed that Nim was just an ordinary chimpanzee. 

    Once he was in the cage with other chimpanzees, a worker that was with the chimpanzees noticed that Nim interacted with humans differently than every other chimpanzee. He seemed to understand humans better. He may not have been able to communicate with humans, but he definitely was different around them than other chimpanzees. Funding for the experiment had ended and the chimps were going to be sent off to other testing, but at the time Nim was well known, so people were able to save him. He even appeared on Sesame Street. He lived out the rest of his days on a ranch, and he died in 2000. 

    I think this experiment is incredibly interesting. It's outdated at this point, since quite a lot has happened since the 70's, but it's still crazy to think that they took this chimpanzee from birth, but him with a family in New York to try and simulate the same way a baby would be living. There are pictures of Nim doing dishes, they were trying to raise him as authentically as possible. If this study were to be done today, they would still try and keep it as authentic as possible, but maybe a more controlled setting to not let the chimpanzee get out of hand. The fact that Nim got so much attention for dealing with humans so well that he was on TV multiple times says a lot for how chimpanzees are a lot with nature and nurture. It was a lot of observational learning for this chimpanzee and that can impact a lot growing up. 


Adler, M., & Hess, E. (2008, May 28). The Chimp that Learned Sign Language. NPR.