ERC Award for Mariska Kret bringing science to the zoo
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ERC Award for Mariska Kret bringing science to the zoo

Mariska Kret, Professor in Cognitive psychology has been awarded the European Research Council (ERC) Public Engagement with Research Awards 2022. Kret convinces the jury with 'RecognizeYourself - Bringing science to the zoo. Involving the public into the study of great apes emotions'.

'Knowledge gained from personal experience, increases people’s respect for these animals.'

The Award was established to recognise those ERC grantees who successfully engage audiences outside their domain. After receiving the Award in the category Involve - citizen science, Mariska Kret talks with Robert Dijkgraaf, Dutch Minister of Education, Culture and Science about the project. Kret: 'The main outreach activity is that human participants such as zoo visitors can conduct the same tasks as apes do. They can feel what that is like and also compare their performance to theirs. Since recently, visitors of Ouwehands Dierenpark can watch the orangutans perform on these tasks and directly interact with the researchers standing around. I see that zoo visitors are amused or shocked to see that at some tasks, apes are better. With reaction times for instance, they are often much faster.'

Why is it important to get the award?

Kret: 'The award raises more publicity and also increases the credibility of my research. It shows me, my team, and the general public that we are on the right track. More publicity is more awareness about apes capacities, and this is highly needed. The next crucial step obviously, is to turn this knowledge into conservation activities. Because due to us, all ape species are nearly extinct in the wild and experts agree that if nothing changes, there will be no wild apes at all anymore in a future that is very near.'

Tips of engaging with the public

In the video the winners of all three categories reveal their tips of engaging with the public.

Award category: Involve - citizen science
Mariska Kret (Leiden University): RecognizeYourself - Bringing science to the zoo, involving the public into the study of great apes emotions

Award category: Inspire - public outreach
Jonathan Tennyson (University College London): Orbyts - Engaging students in original research, inspiring science careers

Award category: Influence - media and policy
Alpa Shah (London School of Economics and Political Science): CounterOppression - Challenging inequalities, countering oppression