Interactive summer exhibition explores the traits we share with animals

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Visitors are being encouraged to talk like a chimpanzee, sing like a whale and think like a dog at the University of St Andrews’ Wardlaw Museum this summer.

What Makes Us Human?
is a new exhibition opening this week (Sunday 28 May) that allows visitors to get hands-on with experiments, explore the traits that humans share with animals, and perhaps discover that we’re more alike than we thought.

Visitors can try their hand at understanding what chimpanzees are communicating, using tools to get food like crows, and exploring how south Pacific humpback whales experience musical revolutions that scientists have likened to the arrival of The Beatles.

The exhibition has been developed with Dr Manon Schweinfurth from the University’s School of Psychology and Neuroscience and makes use of years of research into the behaviours of animals by academics at the University.

Dr Schweinfurth said: “Humans did not fall from the moon; we share an evolutionary history with other species. So it’s no surprise that other animals share many of our abilities in one way or another.

“This exhibition reveals the complex and sometimes quite astonishing abilities of non-human animals and thereby challenges the belief that humans are somehow unique on this planet.

“We are the only the species that has managed to leave Earth, so we must be different to all other animals. But are we really so unique? This exhibition might surprise visitors and change their response to this question.”

The Wardlaw Museum’s Matt Sheard, who has been central to the exhibition’s development, said: “Did you know that dogs can sense what you’re thinking? That chimpanzees share many of their gestures with human toddlers? Or that rats develop relationships based on reciprocity, just like we do?

“We think this exhibition will astound visitors as they discover some of the amazing things that are a central part of animals’ lives.”

As well as challenging visitors’ perception of human uniqueness, the exhibition also seeks to make a serious point about our relationship with the animal kingdom.

Matt continued: “Some of the animals we investigate in this exhibition are under threat as a result of human actions, which contribute to climate change, habitat destruction and ultimately to biodiversity loss. The exhibition asks you to consider what you can do, and there are things you can do, to protect these and other animals in the future. And if we do protect them, our descendants might see animals develop in amazing ways that make them even more like humans.”

The exhibition is accompanied by a series of events, including an escape room experience, a full programme of family friendly events over the summer, and a family fun day where visitors will experience living like an animal. Full details of the programme are available on the Museums website.

What Makes Us Human? opens at the Wardlaw Museum in St Andrews on Sunday 28 May and runs until Sunday 17 September 2023.


Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Category Public interest stories

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