How chimps are making monkeys out of humans…

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Extraordinary research from Japan shows that chimpanzees are way ahead of humans in complex memory tests

Tetsuro Matsuzawa begins his working day, conventionally enough, in front of a computer. He taps in a few commands, takes a seat and waits. Within minutes, the calm of his basement laboratory is pierced by the sound of excitable primates.

On cue, two chimpanzees appear through an opening in the ceiling, flash a look of recognition at Matsuzawa, and then aim an inquisitive stare at his unfamiliar companion from the Observer.

Matsuzawa feeds them a spoonful of honey each and wipes their hands and fingers – a near-daily ritual meant to reward them for arriving on time, and to encourage them to show up again the following morning.

After all, Ai, a 36-year-old chimpanzee, and her 13-year-old son, Ayumu, are free to stay in their nearby home, a re-creation of a west African rainforest they share with 12 other chimps. That they are such willing participants in Matsuzawa's experiment is a tribute to the bond that has built up between the professor and the chimps during many years of research.

Over the course of more than three decades, Matsuzawa, a professor at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, a historic town in central Japan, has gained unprecedented insights into the workings of the primate mind, and by extension, our own.

Written By: Justin McCurry
continue to source article at theguardian.com

11 COMMENTS

  1. Christianity has impeded the research into animal intelligence. It deeply buried the idea that man was supreme, and that other animals were mere brutes, man’s chattels created by god for the purpose of serving man.

    I have watched PhD ignore brain size and cook up a meaningless brain to body ratio to convince themselves man has the smartest brains, comfortably forgetting a TRex managed its body with a walnut sized brain.

  2. This task reminds me of concentration, a game played with cardboard pictures turned over. I recall learning in a psych class that this game can be best played by a five year old. I tried it out on several little ones and they won every time. Perhaps the children and chimps have an area of the brain that is similar??? Can anyone verify this?

  3. I wonder if the need for such rapid memorization could also arise from swinging through the trees where one might have only a momentary glimpse through a gap in the foliage to remember the series of branches ahead necessary for the next few handholds? Certainly any mistake could be fatal and highly evolutionary for speedy and accurate short-term memory — especially if being pursued by an enemy. Once life moved to the ground, this would no longer be necessary and could be replaced by other cognitive challenges.

    • In reply to #4 by scottburdick:

      I wonder if the need for such rapid memorization could also arise from swinging through the trees where one might have only a momentary glimpse through a gap in the foliage to remember the series of branches ahead necessary for the next few handholds?

      Quite possible. After all, “not dying” does constitute a significant evolutionary pressure.

      Or perhaps the ability to move quickly from tree to tree is a by-product of the evolutionary necessity to find food in a highly competitive environment since most of the food they eat comes from trees. As Matsuzawa mentioned in the article:

      “The ability to memorise the location of objects is critical to their survival in the wild, where they compete for food with other, often aggressive, ape communities.. To thrive, an individual chimp must be able to look up at, say, a sprawling fig tree and quickly note the location of the ripe fruit.”

      And let’s not forget that the environment in question is a jungle with very dense foliage. A dense jungle or forest has features that are visually confusing to the untrained eye. Finding your way, even in a moderately dense forest without other navigational cues (sun, moon, stars), can be very hard for humans (all the trees look the same to “city slickers” like me). IMO, the selective pressure to recognize every detail and spatially localize it before another chimp does is already high enough to favor the evolution of their amazing photographic memory.

      So in retrospect, visually localizing the fruit and visually localizing the branches to jump on are most likely part of the same evolutionary trait.

  4. This is very interesting, one would assume that having a greater short term memory would provide greater advantages in intellectual development however Kareev discusses the advantages of small short term memory in: Kareev, Y. (2012) Advantages of Cognitive Limitations, Evolution and the Mechanisms of Decision Making, MIT Press Cambridge Massachusetts.

    Does this difference in short term memory account in some part for the cognitive development of homo as opposed to other primates?

    • In reply to #7 by ApexDisorder:

      You have to remember these animals, apes not monkeys don’t have anything better to do. Is that really so remarkable.

      A fair point, foraging animals in particular have to notice their surroundings more keenly and quickly in order to compete with others and capitalise on what meagre food sources there are.

      • In reply to #8 by Vorlund:

        In reply to #7 by ApexDisorder:

        You have to remember these animals, apes not monkeys don’t have anything better to do. Is that really so remarkable.

        A fair point, foraging animals in particular have to notice their surroundings more keenly and quickly in order to compete with others and capitalise…but can they play jazz…lol my friend.

    • In reply to #7 by ApexDisorder:

      You have to remember these animals, apes not monkeys don’t have anything better to do. Is that really so remarkable. I play 12 tone jazz. I’m an idiot..

      I think you may be missing the point. The reason that humans are no match for the chimpanzees at the number position memorizing game is NOT because the chimps get more “practice time”. In the extreme “chimp grade” version of this game, the numbers 1-9 are flashed on the screen for a mere 2/10ths of a second (!!) before they are masked by white squares.

      I saw this test on the BBC documentary “Super Smart Animals” in which the host Liz Bonnin tried to compete with the chimp. They show the screen with the numbers flashing for 2/10ths of a second before they are hidden. It was so quick that she never even SAW the numbers (I didn’t either). Her reaction was “You gotta be kidding me”…. If you get a chance to see this documentary, you’ll see what I mean.

      I am absolutely convinced that no amount of practice can overcome this.

  5. Prove it. I downloaded that app…I am way quicker than these things, and I play jazz ontop….set up the challenge. I will be in country, state, institution near you. Prepare to be destroyed chimps…

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