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Chimpanzees Beat out Children in Reasoning Test 663

caffeinemessiah writes "The New York Times has a story on how chimpanzees seem to exhibit a better understanding of cause and effect than human children. While training chimps to perform a routine task with redundant steps, the chimps were able to figure out and eliminate the redundant steps, while the human children routinely performed them despite their evident uselessness. It says something about the way we learn compared to chimps and should be interesting to cognitive scientists and those interested in computational learning theory, at the least."
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Chimpanzees Beat out Children in Reasoning Test

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  • by rebug ( 520669 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:24AM (#14253369)
    Chimps will always be chimps.

    Lucky bastards.
    • by SenatorOrrinHatch ( 741838 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:31AM (#14253403)
      Does anyone doubt that, when genetic engineering reaches the point where we can graft human vocal chords to chimps and dolphins, some of them will be plainly more intelligent than many humans?

      I am certain it will happen, I just hope its in the next 20 yeas.
      • "I dunno. How big of a monkey?"
      • Language (Score:3, Insightful)

        by weierstrass ( 669421 )
        Has it occurred to you that it's not the lack of vocal cords that prevents chimps from communicationg with us?
        • Re:Language (Score:5, Insightful)

          by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @01:54AM (#14253820) Journal
          Yes,unfortunately the most likely answer is, whatever our brains have that promoted verbal communication, their brains lack. They can understand verbal communication, and are able to communicate with us by sign language (and if you claim that isn't reason of intelligence, then I've got some deaf and mute people for you to meet). The only difference between humans and chimps, is that we created the methods of communicating, they do need some help to create language (but are able to do "create words" by merging two seperate ideas in order to make up for what they may lack in their vocabulary).

          I find it interesting that continuously we prove to ourselves that while apes can't reason, think or act on a human adult level, they are able to do so on a level above or equal the human child/mentally handicaped adult. And yet, we continue to deny them equal rights to children/retards. It says a lot about our society on the whole I think.
          • Re:Language (Score:3, Funny)

            by JThundley ( 631154 )
            (and if you claim that isn't reason of intelligence, then I've got some deaf and mute people for you to meet).

            You've got deaf and mute people? Where do you keep them?
        • Re:Language (Score:4, Funny)

          by masklinn ( 823351 ) <slashdot.orgNO@SPAMmasklinn.net> on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @07:35AM (#14254964)
          Yeah, it's probably that they don't even consider us worth communicating with.
      • So then instead of discussing intelligent design ad nauseum, we can argue about whether humans were really given domain over all animals. Great.
    • by DissidentHere ( 750394 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @01:49AM (#14253805) Homepage Journal
      Well......they could become president.

      We do have precedent now.
    • The article talks about how children overimitate and chimps don't imitate. I know you were joking, but I don't think this really changes much as humans grow older. Just look at the dot-com bubble: it was pretty much causes by too many people trying to imitate a few good ideas and people just generally going nuts. Anytime anyone does anything remotely innovative, it is imitated a thousand times it seems like. Imitation is just a part of human nature, which has evidentally helped us take over this planet.
  • by incubusnb ( 621572 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:26AM (#14253374) Homepage Journal
    a Chimpanzee would have stopped visiting slashdot a long time ago, its a redundant step.

    oh, and First Post(though i've probably failed it, i have Karma to burn so do whatever to me)

  • Experiment Proposal (Score:5, Interesting)

    by students ( 763488 ) * on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:27AM (#14253380) Homepage Journal
    I'd like to see another experiment done. Suppose, hypothetically, that a chimp showed a human child how to solve a puzzle, inserting unnecessary steps. Would the human skip steps more often if taught by a chimp than by another human? If so, it would show that what matters is if the species of the teacher and student are the same, not the what species the student belongs to.
    • by CyricZ ( 887944 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:29AM (#14253394)
      The chimp would probably eat the child, just so it doesn't get stuck doing pointless experiments.

      • by iocat ( 572367 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:39AM (#14253458) Homepage Journal
        It would probably eat the human child because chimps are vicious [msn.com] wild animals, not the cute, cuddly animals people think they are.

        Also, the fact that humans are more likely to do unnecessary steps may indicate a greater willingness on the part of humans to experiment, which is why we have computers, and keep chimps in cages, and not the other way around.

        • do unnecessary steps may indicate a greater willingness on the part of humans to experiment,

          Uhhhh what?
          How does imitating unnecessary steps translate to experimenting?
          Experimenting would be trying it DIFFERENT ways, which is what the CHIMPS were doing, not just rote imitation of what they were shown, which the HUMANS were doing.

          • I can do a task by doing A then B then C ... let's try adding D (extra step!), and see what happens. Ah, looks like the redundant steps are now A and C, saving steps over the initial solution! Prototypes of anything involve a million extra bits; the trip from concept to production is getting the extra bits out.
          • by dajak ( 662256 )
            In the nineties we changed from traditional rote learning to a revolutionary discovery-based teaching method in secondary schools in the Netherlands. My professor in Cognitive Psychology was extremely skeptical about this and had his students organize learning experiments with children and students to demonstrate how badly they performed at 'discovering' anything other than a simple correlation or inverse correlation. He was right: the method turned out to be a disaster for the generation of children expose
    • How do you coax a chimp into teaching a human child? How do you coax the child into agreeing to "learn from a monkey"? Hell, how do you convince the parents?

      "We'll pay your child $10 an hour to learn how to shuck corn from this chimpanzee."

      That'd be one hell of a reality show.
    • I was thinking about something even better as I was reading the article. Have a chimp demonstrate the redundant process to another chimp. I was thinking that the researchers might be overlooking some cross-species assumptions they were making. Basically, if you saw another species carry out a process, I think humans are more likely to look at the goals of those actions and attempt to achieve those goals. But if you see another human carry out a process, humans are more likely to imitate since they think the
    • by Reziac ( 43301 ) *
      I suspect what they were really measuring was the desire to please. Most kids naturally want to please adults; it's a survival mechanism. So most of the time they'll slavishly repeat what they're shown, even if they know of better methods, just to avoid getting "in trouble" (even if that "trouble" is all in the kid's head).

      I did wonder how the chimps would behave if they were shown the steps by a *boss chimp* -- would they then be more likely to "do as they're told" rather than making things easier for them
  • by ReformedExCon ( 897248 ) <reformed.excon@gmail.com> on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:28AM (#14253389)
    Human babies have a prolonged childhood. Whereas a chimpanzee may be considered an adult by age three, humans may not even reach (emotional) adulthood until well into their 30s. So it seems a little disingenuous to compare chimpanzees to human babies when the rates of growth and maturity are so different.
  • While training chimps to perform a routine task with redundant steps, the chimps were able to figure out and eliminate the redundant steps, while the human children routinely performed them despite their evident uselessness

    Ever work for the Military? As much as I respect those serving you have to wonder about some of the regs they have to live by. If you've worked as a contractor (or served) then you know what I mean :-)
    • by Doom bucket ( 888726 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:32AM (#14253412)
      This should be insanely obvious to anybody.

      These were adult chimpanzees, yes? And comparing them to young humans?

      I'm sure if you compared young chimpanzees with young humans the results might be different.
      • This should be insanely obvious to anybody.

        These were adult chimpanzees, yes? And comparing them to young humans?

        I'm sure if you compared young chimpanzees with young humans the results might be different.

        The chimp in the pictures is obviously not an adult, so I would assume the comparison is fair.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Fully developed chimps beat underdeveloped humans at reasoning?

    I'm shocked. Shocked!
  • by Thunderstruck ( 210399 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:32AM (#14253413)
    Perhaps this is more of a survival trait in humans than a superiority in chimps. Growing up, there were a lot of things I needed to know HOW to do which were too complex for me to understand WHY at the time. Too, I emulate my parents' culture, often without a conscious reason, perhaps because their culture has allowed them to succeed.

    When my windows box crashes, I reboot it, without knowing why. I could probably eliminate some steps between boot, crash, and reboot too...
    • by BewireNomali ( 618969 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:49AM (#14253515)
      Right. Really good point.

      I had a discussion with a friend of mine about religion. She was raised religious, and while an athiest now, she was happy to have been raised religiously. I asked why; she responded that the religious foundation answered questions she would have had (albeit falsely) about God, death, universe, etc. and thus eased her mind about them until she was mature enough to decide that it was mythology to her. In other words, she did exactly as you suggested, emulated a successful culture dynamic too complex for her to understand fully.

      We all do it as humans. It's what religion is. Do this because I(tm) said so.

      Good point.
    • I could probably eliminate some steps between boot, crash, and reboot too...

      What? like running windows, if it is really working as intended, it should crash on boot, saveing all that valuable work time you could have spent so you can look at buying a new PC :)
  • Understandable (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    since we teach kids process rather than critical thinking. If you want to teach your 2-year-old to tie his shoes, to you teach a series of steps to be followed, rather than an understanding of what qualities a knot must have to hold. I suppose this may be because kids can't handle critical thinking, but this test can't prove it.
    • Less about critical thinking and more about not knowing the fundamentals. Hell, if you told me, now, the properities a shoelace knot needed to hold, I'd just look blank. The example assumes that you already have a solid grounding in knot lore.

      In fact, critical thinking would only becom useful when the child is presented with a range of knots and told to choose which one would be best.
  • I don't think this study shows learning processes as much as the poster says it does.

    I think the real key here is communication and culture. The Chimps were 'shown' how to open the box to retrieve the food. The children were also 'shown', and told that they could do whatever they thought neccicary to retreive it.

    I would think that upbringing and communication would have a big impact on what the kids will do. Lots of times, when an 'adult' shows a child how to do something, they will take that as the 'correc
  • by Muchacho_Gasolino ( 868337 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:42AM (#14253470) Homepage
    It would be interesting to know how much experience the children in this study had had with some form of negative reinforcement for not following a parent/teacher/etc.'s given method exactly.
  • by Luveno ( 575425 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:43AM (#14253472)
    I believe this study.
  • by drsmack1 ( 698392 ) * on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:43AM (#14253475)
    Why didn't they compare cats and humans? At 10 weeks kittens can already jump up on tables and wreck things - the kid is just slobbering on the floor. Does this teach us interesting things about how things learn?

    No, it teaches us that there are some real morons at the university level wasting money that could be going to a WORTHY project.

    This reminds me of the study a few years back when the attempted to discover why hot pizza burns the roof of your mouth.
    • by Nyph2 ( 916653 )
      heh, funny you mention why hot pizza burns your mouth. Most people assume it's the oil/cheese... but it's actually the sauce.
      The specific heat of water is much higher than that of oil, which means the oil heats up quicker, but also loses its heat quicker. Top this with the insulating effect the cheese gives the sauce, and the sauce can end up staying overly hot for quite some time.
      Anyhoo, im not sure quite why a study of that would be needed, but I for one find looking at it from the angle of specific hea
    • I'm surprised at how much hostility there is towards this study. No one is saying "You're (or your kids are) stupider than a chimp!". Instead the point is, Chimps are smarter than we thought. I think the current accepted wisdom is a chimpanzee has the intelligence of a 2-3 year old, but this seems to imply that perhaps they're even a little bit smarter than that.

    • by Mr.Progressive ( 812475 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @02:25AM (#14253982)
      At 10 weeks kittens can already jump up on tables and wreck things - the kid is just slobbering on the floor.

      And what's your point? This study highlighted some profound (and somewhat surprising) differences between humans and one of our closest relatives. Such differences may have some bearing on how humans evolved the ability to develop a complex, linguistic culture based on rigorous imitation. You wouldn't be against learning about evolution, would you?

      I know, I know; when you say WORTHY project, you probably mean something dire like cancer or AIDS research. And I wholeheartedly agree that those are worthy projects needing generous funding. But science is science. This study adds to what we know about stuff. That's justification in and of itself. And who's to say this research won't tell us something new about mirror neurons [slashdot.org] (probably necessary for imitation) and, by extension, autism, hm?

    • by nwbvt ( 768631 )
      I think you are missing the point of the study. It is not intended to prove which animal is smarter, chimps or humans, but rather to understand how the human mind evolved. This does pretty much establish that our brains are not simply just better than chimp brains, but rather that we have a fundementally different thought pattern. Their hypothesis is that we learn more by imitation than the chimps, and this study seems to support that.
    • Well? (Score:5, Funny)

      by commodoresloat ( 172735 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @03:03AM (#14254150)
      This reminds me of the study a few years back when the attempted to discover why hot pizza burns the roof of your mouth.

      Don't leave us hangin, man; did they learn why?

      • Re:Well? (Score:5, Informative)

        by onedotzero ( 926558 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @05:35AM (#14254654) Homepage
        Hrm. Do I go for the:
        +1 Funny: Because it's hot. Hot <anything> burns. It doesn't have to be pizza.

        Or the:
        +1 Informative/Boring: The roof of your mouth is particularly sensitive; it's part of the body's temperature monitors. It's this sensor that triggers brain freeze when you eat something cold. The sensor thinks you're far too cold, and your brain tells blood to rush to your head. The amount of blood is higher than the veins and capillaries can take, and bottlenecks. And it hurts.

        Tough call...
  • But seem to remember something like this

    That the saying a trained chimp could do this job as reffering to a boring assembly line job is in fact not true. While a monkey/ape could be trained to do simple assembly work it could not do it for the 8 hour shifts that humans can without going insane.

    Sure it is nice if you can see the redundancy in your actions but it doesn't seem to allow chimps to keep growing. Childeren may be more limited then chimps but something must work better since adults are clearly su

    • That the saying a trained chimp could do this job as reffering to a boring assembly line job is in fact not true. While a monkey/ape could be trained to do simple assembly work it could not do it for the 8 hour shifts that humans can without going insane.

      Thats because the human already is insane. All humans are insane, but since we control the dictionary, we get to call ourselves sane.
  • Could this be a certain amount of social conditioning on the matter. I had heard stories on how North-American children will form into lines naturally because they learned to do so in school, while some countries on the African continent, this is a rare occurrence. In many ways following direction is doing what is expected from a child when given direction from an adult?

    I've seen fairly irrelevant procedures in many tasks that exist for safety reasons. Weapons handling in the military is certainly an
  • that it's cruel to experiment on monkeys. You wouldn't put a child in a cage and perform medical experiments, right? Yeah, I know it's not a perfect analogy, but I'm not sure in who's favor.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:48AM (#14253508)
    Its has to do with sociopsychology- not learning.

    Children are told to do things all the time- they are punished if they don't do them exactly as asked. Kids are encouraged to conform and do what they are asked.

    It has very little to do with learning or the ability to think abstractly and more with whether we are discouraged from thinking abstractly by our society. If we all thought for ourselves in the US we would be in much better shape. However a good portion of people let the church do their thinking.

  • I'd guess (haven't read the article - doh) that is socialization and authoritarian behavior not problem solving - the human is exhibiting socialization behavior and listening to authority - I was told to do it this way, so I'll do it how I was told.

  • I find that this is further proof that man did not evolve from any species of ape or monkey. We deevolved.
    • Re:Further proof (Score:2, Informative)

      by Dr. Eggman ( 932300 )
      I don't believe devolved actually works in this case. Technically, evolution is not a directional process, as it is classically defined so really indicating a backwards motion to it doesn't really apply, nor would using evolution as an argument to applying a sense of greater advancement. At its root, the world evolve means to change, thus saying chimps changed in to humans would be the same concept but hold very different connotations than saying evolved.

      However, if you were to use devolve as to say: "The
  • Authority (Score:2, Interesting)

    by koreaman ( 835838 )
    The children did the task exactly as it was described because the scientists were authority figures and their parents trained them that way. The chimps don't give a damn.

    This view of authority is, however, a double-edged sword and could be dangerous.
  • I never know what scientific results to believe, so I tend to believe the ones that make sense. This theory of human learning makes a lot of sense. We tend to imitate each other even in bizarre behaviors. Remember Furbies? How 'bout our need for voting booths, because our votes may be biased by seeing someone else punch a card the same way? We often don't even think when we imitate something; people can go their whole lives without doing anything original. The human body has a lot of obsolete features
  • by radiotyler ( 819474 ) <tyler.dappergeek@com> on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:57AM (#14253562) Homepage
    ...I read the article title as "Chimpanzees Beat Children in Reasoning Test".

    I didn't know what sort of a reasoning test involved children and simians to engage in fisticuffs, but I was all for it.
  • Maybe children do this because they have been trained to be able to conform. Or perhaps humans are even biologically better at conforming to social standards. Could be because of better impulse control or something.

    As much as I, an individualist, hate to admit it, sometimes conformity can make a group function more efficiently and can be useful trait.

    So perhaps this behavior shows that humans are not dumber than but instead are more socially capable than chimps.

  • More than anything, I'd say that this shows how indoctrinated people are into following orders. When even a monkey knows that some of what it is told to do is absolutely pointless, and a human doesn't, I find that a little bit scary. Are we slowly losing our ability to think critically, is it being bred out of us, or are we just taught to ignore reason any obey?
  • by ClickOnThis ( 137803 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @12:58AM (#14253571) Journal
    [Disclaimer: I have no credentials in behavioural psychology, aside from what I have learned by reading and by experience as an amateur trainer and caregiver for several dogs, including two German Shepherds.]

    Practically from birth, humans are conditioned to imitate each other, so perhaps it's no surprise that the children absorbed and retained the "ritual" portions of the tasks. Psychologists call it operant conditioning: when you reward a certain kind of behaviour, it tends to occur more often; if you don't, then it tends to extinguish. I wonder if chimps are more goal-oriented because their sense of reward is more focused on the final result rather than following a number of ritualized steps, at least initially. In short, perhaps young children are more conditioned to imitate, as well as being more capable of doing so.
  • /me : i know ppl like that /CW : what, that do wasteful repatative things like read /. /me : no , short and hairy with long arms /CW : whack ..
  • Humans are wired to follow the requirements set by the Authority. The Authority is assumed to have a reason for those steps, even if its not apparent.

    The thing is, if the process was set up by an expert, the non-obvious steps often do have importance. The guy on the assembly line drills a hole where he's told because that's what he was told to do. The fact that the hole is later an anchoring point for a strut is Somebody Else's Problem.

    You might say the repetition of the steps designated by Authority is th
  • by michaelmalak ( 91262 ) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @01:39AM (#14253754) Homepage
    Here's the briefest summary of Maria Montessori's four planes of development [aaaa.net.au] that I could find via Google. The first six years are known as the "absorbent mind". The "reasoning mind" doesn't start until the next six years (ages 6-12). The kids in TFA were ages 3-4. No big surprise they couldn't reason and abstract.

    Now ask a chimp to have a vocabulary of 10,000 words.

    Maria Montessori's major insight was that there are "sensitive periods" for various developments -- an age to walk, an age for toilet independence, an age to talk, an age to learn practical life skills, an age to acquire knowledge, an age to self-consciously play a role in human society, and an age to develop a profession. If a person does not learn and develop a skill during the sensitive period, that person will struggle with that skill until death.

    Three and four year olds aren't ready to reason. Teach them to read, to sew, and to cook instead.

  • by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @02:11AM (#14253912)
    The most interesting bit from the article (in my opinion):
    As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn't understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate.

    Think about it - usually, when an ape wants to obtain food, it only needs to complete a couple of steps to achieve that goal, and the reward is immediate. But with tool-using humans, it may involve sharpening a rock, cutting a big stick, jamming the rock in the end of the stick, and then hunting for food and killing it with the tool. Even if the manufacture of the spear immediately precedes hunting for the animal, the reward is still not instant, and it may even be beneficial to manufacture several spears the day before.

    Children see the manufacture of these tools, and the manufacture of the spear becomes the apparent goal, not the killing of the animal. Since the benefit of each step in terms of its effect on the fitness of the tool isn't immediately apparent, it's more advantageous to imitate all of the steps until one gains the higher insight needed to modify the tool's design. There may thus have been a pressure to select for children who were good at imitation when the immediate reward was simply the completion of the task and not the reward that comes from later using the tool.

    And when you think about it, nearly everything we do today (aside from fairly passive activities like watching TV, sleeping, taking a dump) doesn't have an immediate reward, yet we usually feel good about completing a task whose actual benefit isn't immediate.

  • by Spock the Baptist ( 455355 ) on Wednesday December 14, 2005 @08:31AM (#14255099) Journal
    Experiments prove that Gophers are more intelligent than human fetuses...

    And the point of the headline?

"Been through Hell? Whaddya bring back for me?" -- A. Brilliant