The question I am researching is if animals can understand complex emotions like humans can. Using EBSCO I wanted to find a specific example of an animal that can communicate in a complex way with humans. The animal I found is a female gorilla named Koko.

I first watched a documentary, called Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks, that showed the journey of Koko and her trainer Penny throughout Kokos life. Penny started teaching Koko simple sign language when Koko was only a baby. She started by learning how to sign phrases like eat, drink and more. As an adult Koko found a way to string simple phrases together to make complex sentences and express emotions that previously we thought only humans could experience.

I then read an article titled, “Can Koko the gorilla really talk?” I was attempting to find evidence against Koko and her sign language however the article was another affirmation of Koko’s skill. The writer states that, ” According to Patterson, what Koko has to say reveals an emotional and mental life that is astonishingly similar to humans’: Koko cracks puns, she lies, she schemes, she cries her whoo-whoo cry and laughs her ho-ho laugh.”

However when I read the scientific article titled, “Why Koko can’t talk: The ape’s still fooling most of the people, most of the time.”, I finally found an opposing viewpoint to Koko. The article highlights many things that make it difficult or impossible for inter species complex communication like the gap between animal communication and human language, the language competence of apes, the language ability of Koko, a laboratory ape and a contrast between the use of language by children and apes.

Overall I think it is very exciting to believe that humans and apes can communicate. I believe Koko did learn simple phrases for more food, drink and play. However I am not sure whether to believe that Koko has the capability to string together words to create complex sentences and phrases. I will need to read more scientific journals to evaluate my research.


source 1: Acosta, Sheila. “Koko: The Gorilla Who Talks.” School Library Journal, vol. 62, no. 11, Nov. 2016, p. 50. EBSCOhost,

source 2: Adams, Jane Meredith. “Can Koko the Gorilla Really Talk?.” Biography, vol. 3, no. 5, May 1999, p. 72. EBSCOhost,

source 3:  Terrace, Herbert S. “WHY KOKO CAN’t TALK: The Ape’s Still Fooling Most of the People, Most of the Time.” Sciences, vol. 22, no. 9, Dec. 1982, p. 8. EBSCOhost,

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