Isolation doesn't do anyone good, and if you think a few months in quarantine messed with your mental health, try emphatising with the countless animals that are under captivation for many, many years. Previous research has shown that keeping animals in captivity reduces their brain size, and the lack of stimulation can result in behavior such as excessive scratching and continuous pacing which are tell-tale signs of depression.
Researchers at Aalto University, in collaboration with Korkeasaari Zoo, Helsinki, have come up with a potential 'solution' for the Zoo's white-faced saki monkeys. The computer scientists built an on-demand video player that allows the monkeys to 'Netflix and chill' whenever they like with the content they chose to watch.
The study published in Animals explains how the small primates choose to control the video players and what they liked watching the most as well as how their behavior was affected.
"We were very much interested in how we can give animals control over their environment and especially how they can control technology," said Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, lead author of the study. "Typically, when we use technology with animals, we use it on them, so we play them sounds or video, rather than giving them the option of controlling the technology themselves."
The built system, a box placed in the Zoo, is essentially a TV watching room that was equipped with sensors and a camera to capture data. The monkeys were able to trigger the videos and chose according to their likings by stepping into the box.
The catalogue they were presented with ranged from underwater sea life such as fish and jelly fish and abstract art to wiggly worms and forests.
'We got interesting results," said co-author Vilma Kankaanpää. "First of all, we learned that the monkeys do pay attention to the screen; they watch it and touch it. We also suspect they recognize objects on the screen. One of the videos we had featured mealworms – an everyday meal for them. They actually tried to lick the screen and even went around the tunnel to see if the worms were behind it."
It's not easy to say with certainty which videos they liked the most; however, they appeared to show a preference towards wiggly worms and underwater scenes. Moreover, the researchers saw that they scratches themselves much less when videos were available. The researchers state that a causal link between specific activites and animals' stress levels cannot be made, but giving them new things to do is nevertheless important for their wellbeing.
The same time conducted another test on white-faced saki monkeys last year that enabled the animals to choose which sounds they wanted to listen to and got very interesting results.