Chimp Beats Students at Memory Tests

If anyone ever attempts to put you down by calling you a monkey, you might want to casually inform them about a recent study conducted by Japanese researchers. The Primate Research Institute in Kyoto Japan studied the memory and recognition skills of both humans and chimpanzees, and their conclusions were more than a little surprising.

In a “head-to-head” test between humans and chimps, the Japanese researchers were surprised to find that chimpanzees outperformed humans on a variety of memory skill tests. ABC news is reporting that Tetsuro Matsuawa, the lead researcher for the Kyoto Institute found that chimpanzees as young as five years of age scored higher on standardized memory test than university students.

In the first round of tests, both chimps and students were asked to touch indicators on a screen to sequentially count to nine. Upon successfully completing this step of the test, a peanut or other treat was awarded to the participant. The second round of the test flashed just some of the numerals on the screen and then quickly blocked them. The participants were asked to remember the location of each numeral in the correct order.

Though the chimpanzee’s results were mixed on this more complicated stage of the test, the researchers were surprised to find that, on average, the chimps results were higher than those of college students who also participated in the memory test research.

One champ in particular named Ayumu, stood out from the others in the controlled experiment, and displayed excellent recall ability for a five-year-old primate. This same chimp moved on to round two of the test to compete against nine international college students, where the chimp succeeded in predicting the correct numerical sequence approximately 80% of the time.

The human subjects of the experiment failed to match the chimps excellent recall percentage, surprising researchers, and encouraging zoologists who have long held that chimpanzee intelligence is much closer to that of humans than has been previously recognized.

Anyone who has ever seen “Planets of the Apes” probably has mixed feelings about the superior performance of chimpanzees in these standardized memory tests. Although the lovable primates are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, humans tend to define ourselves by our “special-ness” and are perceived higher intelligence.

But the new research seems to suggest that the intelligence gap between humans and other primates may not be nearly as wide as we would like to believe.

Although it is true that humans are the only primates to use written language, and our verbal communication skills are undoubtedly the highest in the animal kingdom; other primates, such as chimpanzees, may have a greater intellect in other areas. Perhaps it is time for us to show a greater respect to our chimpanzee friends.


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