Koko the Gorilla – A Critical Thinking Exercise

Koko, a gorilla who was taught sign languages, died on June 19, 2018, at the age 48. Her sign language skills were remarkable (she could sign approximately 1,000 words), and you can watch videos of her on YouTube. It’s easy for us to believe that she was simply expressing herself. But was she really?
Critical Thinking: Was Koko Really Communicating her Inner Thoughts?
Here is a link or embed code that you can use to help your online course. It follows the ideas in Ken Bain’s book “What the Best College Teachers Do”.
Show Videos: Before you say anything about whether or not other researchers doubt Koko’s abilities or not, show students the first video of the exercise that claims Koko is communicating her thoughts. The video will be convincing to students.
Koko Question 1 – After watching the videos, ask students for a number from 1-10.
Next, show these videos:Pigeons playing ping pong: This famous video shows how B.F. Skinner was able to get pigeons into doing something that looks very human using reinforcement techniques.
Clever Hans: This video discusses the horse that seemed to have human skills. This could have been due to rewarded behavior.
Rubber the Movie: This video shows how easy it can be for humans to anthropomorphize. Notice how even a tire with no face, such as a tire, can appear to have inner motives.

KoKo Question 2 – Have students answer the question again.
After making a commitment, students may have changed their positions after watching the videos. Ask them to explain why they changed or why they didn’t. Also, ask them where they stand on animal communication. They will hopefully see that it is important to be careful when we look at seemingly extraordinary events and draw conclusions.
Click the image below for more information.

MindTap allows you to place this activity or any other web page into MindTap. Here’s how:

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