NPR FOR THE DEAF: We Hear It Even When You Can’t

project_nim_hollywood_movie_poster.jpgFRESH AIR


In 1973, an infant chimpanzee was taken from his mother’s arms and sent to live with a human family as part of a Columbia University psychology experiment. The goal of the project was to see if the animal, named Nim Chimpsky, could be conditioned to communicate with humans if he was raised like a human child in a human household. He learned some very basic words in American Sign Language, but Nim continued to act like a chimp — he bit the children in the house and didn’t understand how to behave like a human child. It was decided that the family could no longer care for Nim, and he was shuffled from caretaker to caretaker for several years. In 1977, Nim attacked one of the people taking care of him, and the experiment ended. At that point, researchers said he knew more than 125 ASL signs — but no one knew quite what to do with Nim. He was sent to a medical research facility, where he lived in a cage with other chimps for the first time in his life, before being rescued and sent to an animal sanctuary. He died in 2000. Nim and the many people who raised him over the years are the subjects of James Marsh’s new documentary Project Nim. Marsh and two of the people who worked with Nim join Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross for a discussion about the film and about the controversial experiment. MORE

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