The Nim Project: Science or Cruelty

Project Nim attempted to teach a chimpanzee sign language by raising it from birth in a human household. The family would teach Nim, the chimpanzee, signs as he grew older and more capable of word retention. Unfortunately, the family Nim was with originally did not treat him as a chimpanzee, but rather as a human. They allowed the young chimpanzee to drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, and destroy their house. Nim was not shown discipline like a human child would. Nim learned that he could do what he wanted with little to no repercussion for his actions. It is my opinion that the years he spent with this family, the most important and impressionable time for any developing mammal, ruined the outcome of the experiment as a whole. The leader of the experiment said that Nim had not learned to comprehend sign language, but rather associated hand motions the with rewards he received for making the hand motions. Had Nim been placed in a setting more conducive to learning, it is possible that he would have gained an understanding of what the hand motions meant rather than the reward associated with them. Unfortunately, Nim did not live an easy post-experiment life. He had never learned to socialize with other chimpanzees. He only knew how to interact with humans. His transition to captivity was challenging, and one can only think about the psychological effects of being abandoned by the only people you know, being placed inside a cage with limited space and food, and interacting with a species you had never seen before. Nim lived a challenging life all because one professor from Columbia University wanted to know if humans could teach a chimpanzee sign language and communicate in a grammatically correct manner. Was the experiment really worth ruining the life of a chimpanzee? You tell me.

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