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Chimps Outscore College Students on Memory Test 271

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the well-when-the-rewards-are-bananas dept.
AP's Malcolm Ritter reports that young chimpanzees were better at remembering a series of numbers flashed on a screen, than the Japanese college students used as a control group. Scientists plan to repeat the experiment using 5th graders against the great apes.
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Chimps Outscore College Students on Memory Test

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  • BAC! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:11PM (#21562073)
    I demand blood alcohol content tests!

    At least make the chimps do banana flavored shots the night before ...
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      At least make the chimps do banana flavored shots the night before ...
      The scary part is -- that they did.
      • Re:BAC! (Score:5, Funny)

        by Squiffy (242681) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:28PM (#21563047) Homepage
        Considering some of the undergrads I've known, I'm surprised they were able to get them all to sit still long enough to administer the test. It must have been like herding cats.
    • Seems like microSantaSoft doesn't/didn't want to be outdone:

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/12/03/santa_filth_outrage/ [theregister.co.uk]

      "El Reg says: Maybe you shouldn't eat it?

      Santa says: See if you can get someone else to eat it!

      El Reg says: Eat it

      Santa says: No thank you. I don't eat things!

      El Reg says: Eat it

      Santa says: See if you can get someone else to eat it!

      El Reg says: Eat it

      Santa says: You want me to eat what?!? It's fun to talk about oral sex, but I want to chat about something else...

      El Reg says: You dirty bast
  • by Harmonious Botch (921977) * on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:13PM (#21562089) Homepage Journal
    I, for one, welcome our new... umm... er, ah what were they again?
  • Misleading... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pwnies (1034518) * <j@jjcm.org> on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:13PM (#21562095) Homepage Journal
    FTA:

    Results showed that the chimps, while no more accurate than the people, could do this faster.
    Seems to me that the headline is slightly misleading. It's not that the chimps could do better on the memory tests, they could just do it faster - at least for the 8/10ths of a second test. Later the article shows that the chimps could perform the same when the screen flashed for only 2/10ths of a second. This doesn't necessarily mean that they have a better memory, as this could be attributed to peripheral vision as well.
    • Re:Misleading... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Mistlefoot (636417) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:24PM (#21562249)
      Why is this post modded (at time of my reply) off-topic. This is exactly what the article says.

      The Chimps are better at "reacting" then people are. That they do as well as humans when the numbers are flashed on the screen for a longer duration is more of a surprise. The more time that is allowed for memorizing, the better humans should do. This doesn't seem to be the case though. Nothing in the article says whether any tests where done, with say, 5 seconds of showing the numbers on the screen - which would really allow for actual thought and not just 'reaction'....
    • Re:Misleading... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Smidge204 (605297) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:48PM (#21562571) Journal
      FTA:

      They saw nine numbers displayed on a computer screen. When they touched the first number, the other eight turned into white squares. The test was to touch all these squares in the order of the numbers that used to be there.

      Results showed that the chimps, while no more accurate than the people, could do this faster.


      I requoted that part because the test they are talking about is important.

      If you can see these numbers on the screen for any length of time you want, then "reaction" becomes irrelevant. I interpret this portion of the article to say the chimps could perform at the same accuracy as the humans while taking less time to memorize and recall the numbers' locations. That certainly sounds like "better" short-term memory to me... increased speed without loss of accuracy.

      The SECOND test also involved remembering the location of five numbers on the screen and recalling these locations in the correct order, except the subjects had less than a second to study them. This test indicates that the chimp was again able to memorize the pattern faster and with more accuracy than humans.
      =Smidge=
      • Re:Misleading... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jesus_666 (702802) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:29PM (#21563069)

        That certainly sounds like "better" short-term memory to me... increased speed without loss of accuracy.
        Whether or not that is better depends on oter parameters, as well. SRAM is much faster than DRAM, yet modern high performance desktops rely on DRAM - because SRAM has a lower density than DRAM. Likewise, the chimpanzee brain could allocate more resources to short-term memory, on the expense of other functions our brains tend to emphasize. The result would be faster short-term memory that still wouldn't neccessarily be desirable for us.
        • Bullshit (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward on Monday December 03, 2007 @08:21PM (#21566293)
          I was jailed once.

          There we had phone cards with a long number (12 digits) and we needed to buy them to be able to call our families.

          Almost everyone there were able to memorize that number just reading it once. A short glance will mean you lost your credit. Most people would memorize the numbers in privacy to avoid showing the card in public. I aquired that hability in just 5 minutes of needing it. I could only do it once, when I was really inside everybody would be ultracareful with their cards.

          So the only reason humans don't do it is because we are lazy and rely on notebooks and other stuff to remember things. Put pressure on the test subjects and they will outperform the chimps.
      • by davidsyes (765062)
        Now, if only I could get:

        SHOCK-THE-MONKEY...SHE-BLINDED-ME-WITH-SCIENCE... OH-GIRLS-JUST-WHAA-NHAA-HAFF-FFHUNN..

        out of my mind...

        somebody, please make it Stoppppp....

        (goddam lameness filter.. it's SUPPOSED to be like yelling.. not as if it's a text-entry-block FULL of caps... sheesh...)
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wizardforce (1005805)
      not onyl that but

      The other factor is the youth of Ayumu and his peers. The memory for images that's needed for the tests resembles a skill found in children, but which dissipates with age. In fact, the young chimps performed better than older chimps in the new study. (Ayuma's mom did even worse than the college students).

      oops? the age groups are not on equal ground. try the same thing with humans and you might just see the same thing occur. it would be amazing if the chimps' ages were more representat

    • by EmbeddedJanitor (597831) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:20PM (#21562969)
      The speed at which you see and respond is not at all linked to intelligence. It is far more linked to your need for this speed (ie. due to evolution), priimarily driven by your need to control motion and for feeding.

      For example animals which feed by catching fast moving bugs in their mouth (eg. birds and fish) need to respond very quickly otherwise their food is long gone. Animals that eat berries and kill their food or have paws and hands don't have to be that fast. Animals that live in trees etc and need to judge distance better (monkeys etc) need faster responses than ground based humans etc.

      I forget what this effect is called, but I understand that trout have a speed 20x that of humans. That's to be expected when a trout has to feed by eating little bugs coming past it in fast moving water. The trout has to be able to respond quickly to make an energy efficient movement and get the bug before it has gone. The energy in a small gnat is not enough to waste on charging around the stream.

      As a result of this, I'm not at all suprised that a chimp beats a human in a low level counting game.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fropenn (1116699)
      Another significant problem with the article is the small number of chimps and humans that were used in the study. It is possible that the 3 chimps who were selected are on the high end of chimp brain function and the 12 humans who volunteered were on the low end of human brain function.
      In fact, now that I think about it, I know lots of people whose brains function at a much lower level than a chimp...
  • I Wonder (Score:4, Funny)

    by sirgoran (221190) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:14PM (#21562105) Homepage Journal
    Was the test given before or after the students had a kegger?
    It might explain the chimps score.
    • Re:I Wonder (Score:4, Interesting)

      by garcia (6573) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:28PM (#21562303) Homepage
      Was the test given before or after the students had a kegger? It might explain the chimps score.

      While that might have something to do with it I would assume it has a lot more to do with the fact that your typical college student has a ton more on their minds than just a series of numbers for a test. Numerous passwords, telephone numbers, what time/date they have an exam/group meeting/social gathering, several projects to work on that evening, etc.

      I would go so far as to say that the animals compared to the college students in the study have a lot less on their minds.
  • From TFA:"Even with six months of training, three students failed to catch up to the three young chimps, Matsuzawa said in an e-mail."

    Wondering what/how they trained, I'd bet that (some inner) martial arts training would have helped to improve, say, 'speed of holistic perception'.

    CC.
  • "Scientists plan to repeat the experiment using 5th graders against the great apes."

    Run out of contestants for the game show, did we?
  • This just reinforces the notion that "Survival of the Fittest" no longer applies to the human race and signifies the beginning of what will eventually become the land from the Planet of the Apes.
    • by techpawn (969834) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:36PM (#21562399) Journal
      Thanks for that insight Coco! Now get back in your cage and stop using my Wi-Fi!
    • Not really. Like autistic people whose higher brain functions are impaired but have a greatly increased capacity for math, it's possible that the monkeys have a greater capacity for memory because humans have evolved to displace the memory with something else. If there's a choice between a memory that's 40% better or the ability to use tools, I'll take the tools. Likewise, if you can remember twice as many things in order, but I can remember those things AND their associations to themselves and the world ar
  • by eviloverlordx (99809) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:20PM (#21562179)
    A large group of chimpanzees has produced the collected works of Shakespeare four times faster than the same number of college students, and with fewer spelling errors.
  • by $RANDOMLUSER (804576) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:20PM (#21562183)
    That a chimp would do it faster. A human would instinctively put a "name" on each number seen, thus slowing down the "processing".
    • This occured to me, as well. I wonder how each group would have done with some sort of characters that mean nothing to either group. Something like the transformers font, or those symbols on the predator's arm bom thing...
  • Yes, but... (Score:5, Funny)

    by lazlo (15906) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:22PM (#21562207) Homepage
    The chimps scored better than the college students on memory tests, but their term papers were only marginally better.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by sentientbeing (688713)
      We already know robots have a better than average memory - We should try Pirates next, then if theres time and we can find some - study the abilities of Ninjas.

      We could then have all the winners of each team compete in a sort of game or something.
  • by SparkleMotion88 (1013083) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:24PM (#21562251)

    One memory test included three 5-year-old chimps who'd been taught the order of Arabic numerals 1 through 9, ...

    Results showed that the chimps, while no more accurate than the people, could do this faster.
    Seems to me that these chimps were trained to perform this task. They've probably even used the test setup before whereas the humans were probably using it for the first time. I guess I'm not surprised that the chimps were faster than the humans. Also:

    But when the numbers were displayed for just four-tenths or two-tenths of a second, the chimp was the champ. The briefer of those times is too short to allow a look around the screen, and in those tests Ayumu still scored about 80 percent, while humans plunged to 40 percent.
    That says to me that a chimp is able to move its eyes around faster than a human is. This is also something I would expect. So perhaps this result says more about relative visual ability than relative cognitive ability?
    • by Xzzy (111297) <sether&tru7h,org> on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:31PM (#21562337) Homepage
      It doesn't test anything such as deduction and problem solving either, which is where I would bet humans have the advantage.

      Repeat the test with a predictable pattern of numbers (or symbols, doesn't really matter), and have the subjects try to guess the next in the sequence.
      • by Inda (580031)
        1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8... Damn it.
      • by superwiz (655733)

        It doesn't test anything such as deduction and problem solving either, which is where I would bet humans have the advantage.
        I teach undergrads and I sincerly doubt it. All they want is to be given a repeatable pattern and repeat it. If they see a slight variation on the pattern that you give them and ask them to deduce something, they don't even bother trying and have a good laugh at how you are such a bastard.
        • If they see a slight variation on the pattern that you give them and ask them to deduce something, they don't even bother trying and have a good laugh at how you are such a bastard.

          maybe the reward pellets you're using aren't tasty enough.
    • FTFA:

      What's going on here? Even with six months of training, three students failed to catch up to the three young chimps, Matsuzawa said in an e-mail.

      Since there were 12 student subjects, 9 out of 12 eventually matched/beat the chimps.

      Remember the game 'Simon"?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by berj (754323)
      Seems to me that these chimps were trained to perform this task. They've probably even used the test setup before whereas the humans were probably using it for the first time. I guess I'm not surprised that the chimps were faster than the humans

      From the article:

      "Even with six months of training, three students failed to catch up to the three young chimps, Matsuzawa said in an e-mail."

    • The chimps clearly can *memorize* the screen faster than a human. That is photographic memory. In experimental sciences, the experiment is the truth. This is the experiment that shows that the monkey was able to view and memorize the screen faster than a human. And no, monkeys see about the same as we do.

      It is sad that the only thing we can come up with is a childish "no, we are better because I said so! the experiment cannot be true! whahahaha!". Sad. We are just a creature with limits and this experiment
  • by wolfen (12255) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:27PM (#21562283) Homepage
    The best part about this news story is when you reach the
    end of the article and the researchers reveal that
    their results are basically meaningless because you
      can get the same results by testing children versus adults.

    The real question is how to human children compare with the young chimpanzees.
    • by sumdumass (711423)
      I remember a test a while back which compared the mentality of a chimp to that of a two year old. they showed them various ways to open things and the chimps as well as the two year olds often forgot the correct way and resorted to bashing open in some way.

      After the age of two, the humans started learning the proper ways rather easily and could open what ever was given them by mimicking what was shown to them.

      I'm going to guess that age effects ability of these short term memory problems which could be why
  • by CrazyJim1 (809850) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:29PM (#21562319) Journal
    Did the monkeys have a hat on?
    • by bushboy (112290)
      Yes, they had a "collective" hat - it was damn huge, the poor monkeys were buried under it - a fedora was used for the experiment.
      Later the monkeys got angry and demanded a bowler hat each and a copy of Umbongo, the premier Linux Distribution.
  • Call me a luddite, but with everything modern society forces us to remember/memorize, memorizing jibberish on a test will suffer greatly by the increased load. Hence, monkeys with the reduced load on their memory will outperform their more intelligent cousins.
    Disclaimer: I *am* a College Student.
  • by R2.0 (532027) on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:32PM (#21562349)
    I am positive that, after 6 years (2 degrees) of drinking and sleep deprivation, I am significantly dumber than I was going in to school.
    • I am positive that, after 6 years (2 degrees) of drinking and sleep deprivation, I am significantly dumber than I was going in to school.

      Wait till you have kids. You ain't seen nothing yet. I did 9 years and 3 degrees of sleep deprivation and liver-killing drinking and it doesn't even compare to 18 months of raising rugrats.

  • When your brain doesn't have quite as much high-level conceptualization, optimizing for memorizing simpler patterns is probably a little easier. The gut reaction from this story is "OMG chimps are smarter than people!!!"

    But the same human mind that isn't quite as good at memorizing sequences can easily do things that the chimps (or computers or pidgeons) can't, for example paraphrase in their own words the story of Goldilocks and Three Bears. I'm curious if the pidgeons (which are "programmable" in a lot of
  • 5th Graders (Score:5, Funny)

    by mqduck (232646) <mqduck@ m q duck.net> on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:40PM (#21562447)

    Scientists plan to repeat the experiment using 5th graders against the great apes.
    I'm having difficulty understanding the reasoning of going from college students to 5th graders. I suppose I could RTFM, but instead I'm going to criticize from the safety of Slashdot.
  • College students are known for being heavy drinkers. Japanese people have a bit of a reputation for the same.

    Either that or the Japanese education system isn't quite the world-beater we were told it was.

  • by Billosaur (927319) * <wgrother@optonli ... inus threevowels> on Monday December 03, 2007 @02:44PM (#21562523) Journal

    To be accurate, they should have used chimpanzees who were attending college.

  • Does this mean we'll have to replace the premise of "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"
  • college students were found to be better at flinging poo than chimps.
  • That's not fair. The chimps didn't have hangovers.
  • Sure, the chimps beat the test. And how many people do you know could weave a spider web from silk? Very few. Of course, those chimps didn't drive themselves to the testing station, didn't sign their names and fill out the forms, etc. So clearly more is going on than just memory = intelligence.
  • There have been various studies about chips throwing darts at the Wall Street Journal and doing better than some analysts. Are they just lucky?

    On average, if eight blindfolded chimpanzees threw darts at the stock pages of the Wall Street Journal for three years, one of them would end up beating the market.

    Humans and chimps share roughly 98 percent of the same genes, but that doesn't make it a good idea to give your money to a stock picker who munches on bananas and termites. Our chimp isn't a great invest

    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      You can take three of anything that can throw darts and one of them will generally beat the average ("the market").

      The somewhat interesting thing is that blindfolded chimps or people or whatever (meaning random chance) will also tend to perform about the same as professional stock pickers. In other words, the non-blindfolded pros overall don't outperform the average either.
  • Flawed Summary (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Thumper_SVX (239525) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:05PM (#21562777) Homepage
    The article itself contains a flawed summary. This does nothing to prove the ability of chimps to memorize numbers better than humans, but it does show a greater ability toward pattern recognition. That's not intelligence. In fact, I'd expect that given that pattern recognition is primarily a function of the ability to recognize a predator and/or food that isn't good for you. Given that we as human beings haven't had any significant predators and really don't forage for food (generally, there are exceptions) for thousands of years, you'd expect those lesser-used parts of the brain to "grow limp". A chimp, on the other hand has a certain biological imperative to be able to recognize predators early in life. Chimps that don't, don't perpetuate.

    There's also a factor that there are some biological differences between our species; like the physical fact that chimps can move their eyes faster and have physically smaller bodies therefore nerve impulses don't take so long to travel to the limbs.

    Frankly, I fail to see what has been proven here. Maybe I'm missing something because I'm not a chimp :)
  • FYI, here's the video library [kyoto-u.ac.jp].

    Look closely at two comparable tests:

    There's a BIG difference in the testing: the human gets no cookies! <grin>

    But seriously, I have to admit it is an intriguing test. What I would love to see, though, is another set of test runs which compared chimps with some serious gamers!

  • Scientists plan to repeat the experiment using 5th graders against the great apes.

    Will Jeff Foxworthy be the host?

  • Chimps can remember better than humans, well eagles can see better, cheetahs can run faster, and a gorilla could kick your ass in a fight.

    When the apes start adding up numbers, that would be interesting, and when they start riding horses and firing guns, that would be news.

    Also does this mean we have to change the elephants never forget thing to chimps?
  • Along with the more scientific theories given in the article as to why the young chimps do it faster than the human adults is: chimps don't know it's supposed to be hard. To the chimps, it may be just a game with no pressure. For the adults, the pride of humanity is at stake.

    It's like some savant kids: no one has ever told them they can't play piano like Mozart, so they just do it.
  • by mlwmohawk (801821) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:49PM (#21563329)
    Think about it, most IT work these days isn't critical thinking and analytical work, but merely the memorization of the latest trends and APIs, and re-writing the same old crap in a new job using a different set of tools. So, monkeys are going to have a leg up. They aren't very much more ill behaved than web designers, don't smell as bad, dress about the same, and they have similar toiletry habits.

    I wonder if they will be any more manageable?
  • But, call me when the chimps design and conduct the experiment.
  • The best thing about this story is that the study was done in Japan, and therefore my tax dollars did not pay for it.
  • Of course the monkeys have better memory skills than the humans. Monkeys still depend on memorization to get things done; humans, OTOH, don't bother to memorize anything anymore since it's easier to just look everything up on Google. We're completely out of practice.
  • by Pedrito (94783) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:39PM (#21563893) Homepage
    Some people seem confused by what the article is saying. It's not a matter of the speed of response. It's that, (at least in the second experiment) given a briefer view of the numbers, the chimps were able to recall the order of the numbers more accurately than people. A view lasting 7/10 of a second, people and chimps did about the same, but when you cut the viewing time to 4/10 or 2/10, the chimp's accuracy didn't go down, while the humans' accuracy dropped significantly.

    As for why this kind of makes sense, if I were to hypothesize on it, I'd say it's probably because we ARE more intelligent that we don't perform as well with the briefer views. There's a good deal of abstract thought going on in how we deal with the numbers and different people deal with them differently. It's this ability of more and deeper abstract thought that's displacing our ability to simply see the whole thing as a single picture, but a collection of items.

    On the other hand, I suspect the chimps are simply seeing a picture and recreating that picture with the tools provided. The picture holds no real meaning to them. There's no indication that the chimps understand what the digits mean. They wouldn't know 3 apples from 4 apples in terms of the digits. But human subjects, on the other hand, assign meaning to those numbers. Patterns might grab our attention. If in the digits, for example, I saw 68 in the series, it might bring to mind the year of my birth and that might distract my attention from memorizing the other digits in the number. A chimp, on the other hand, won't see the digits "02" and think, "Hey, that was the year of my birth."

    And that's not to say animals don't know the concept of numbers. They do, or at least some do. There have certainly been studies to show that dogs can count up to about 5 or so (maybe it was higher) with quite a bit of accuracy, and not as something their taught, but simply intuitively... But I digress. I think the results make a lot of sense. Even though my description is probably not specifically what's going on, I wouldn't be surprised if it were something along those lines. Sure, it may make us less efficient at some simple tasks, but what's more valuable? Being able to accurately remember the order of the digits or to know what they mean?
  • by AnalogDiehard (199128) on Monday December 03, 2007 @05:05PM (#21564201)
    To the dismay of Hollywood, these were the series of numbers that the chimps successfully repeated:

    09 F9 11 02 9D 74 E3 5B D8 41 56 C5 63 56 88 C0

  • by ChrisA90278 (905188) on Monday December 03, 2007 @07:08PM (#21565659)
    I wonder if the motivation was the same. If the rewrd for getting it right was an apple. the chimp might really, really want an apple. A doubt they rewarded the students with fruit and I doubt they gave the chips money. How could they know if the two groups had equal motivation and worked as hard to get a correct answer?

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