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Chimps Outscore College Students on Memory Test 271

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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  • 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".
  • Re:Misleading... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:09PM (#21562807) Journal
    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 representative of those they were competing against eg. older chimps vs. corespondingly older humans, young chimps vs. young huamns
  • 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: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.
  • Re:Misleading... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fropenn ( 1116699 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @03:30PM (#21563077)
    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...
  • by Pedrito ( 94783 ) on Monday December 03, 2007 @04:39PM (#21563893)
    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?

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein