Young chimps can beat adult humans in a task involving remembering numbers, reveals a new study. It is the first time chimps – and young ones, at that – have outperformed humans at a cognitive task.
And the finding may add weight to a theory about the evolution of language in humans, say the researchers.
Three adult female chimps, their three 5-year-old offspring, and university student volunteers were tested on their ability to memorise the numbers 1 to 9 appearing at random locations on a touchscreen monitor.
The chimps had previously been taught the ascending order of the numbers. Using an ability akin to photographic memory, the young chimps were able to memorise the location of the numerals with better accuracy than humans performing the same task.
During the test, the numerals appeared on the screen for 650, 430 or 210 milliseconds, and were then replaced by blank white squares.
While the adult chimps were able to remember the location of the numbers in the correct order with the same or worse ability as the humans, the three adolescent chimps outperformed the humans.
The youngsters easily remembered the locations, even at the shortest duration, which does not leave enough time for the eye to move and scan the screen. This suggests that they use a kind of eidetic or photographic memory.
. . .
The article conveniently comes with a YouTube video to help explain the results of the study.