Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Chimp Smarts

I'd always figured they were smarter than most politicians. It's cool to read that chimps have some memory capacities greater than that of humans (the whole article is worth a read):

For example, chimps on their own would not sit at a computer responding with rapid touches on the screen as a test of their immediate memory. Videos of their doing just that at Kyoto University in Japan especially impressed the symposium scientists.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a Kyoto primatologist, described a young chimp watching as numbers 1 through 9 flashed on the computer screen at random positions. Then the numbers disappeared in no more than a second. White squares remained where the numbers had been. The chimp casually but swiftly pressed the squares, calling back the numbers in ascending order — 1, 2, 3, etc.

The test was repeated several times, with the numbers and squares in different places. The chimp, which had months of training accompanied by promised food rewards, almost never failed to remember where the numbers had been. The video included scenes of a
human failing the test, seldom recalling more than one or two numbers, if any.

“Humans can’t do it,” Dr. Matsuzawa said. “Chimpanzees are superior to humans in this task.”

Chimps also have some other very interesting, down-right civilized traits:

In experiments with mirrors, researchers showed that chimps had an awareness of themselves that is absent in monkeys but present in dolphins and all the great apes. Similar tests by Emory scientists showed some self-recognition among elephants. ...

Other researchers said that when confronted with problems obtaining food from the other side of a fence, chimps were not only clever on their own and often competitive with a fellow chimp, but they also showed a willingness to cooperate with one another to get the job done. ...

Dora Biro of the University of Oxford in England has studied tool use by chimps at the Bossou site. They fold leaves in a mat to sponge water out of tree hollows and scoop algae off stream surfaces. They collect edible ants with sticks. They take stouter tree branches and pound the juicy palm fiber to a pulp, preparing another favorite food.