Young Chimp Outscores College Students in Memory Test

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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 the humans' scores plunged to 40 percent.

That indicates Ayumu was better at taking in the whole pattern of numbers at a glance, the researchers wrote.

What's Going on Here?

"It's amazing what this chimpanzee is able to do," said Elizabeth Lonsdorf, director of the Lester E. Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, Illinois. The center studies the mental abilities of apes, but Lonsdorf didn't participate in the new study.

She admired Ayumu's performance when the numbers flashed only briefly on the screen.

"I just watched the video of that, and I can tell you right now, there's no way I can do it," she said. "It's unbelievable. I can't even get the first two [squares]."

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

He thinks two factors gave his chimps the edge. For one thing, he believes human ancestors gave up much of this skill over evolutionary time to make room in the brain for gaining language abilities.

The other factor is the youth of Ayumu and his peers. The memory for images that is 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. (Ayumu's mom did even worse than the college students).

So the next logical step, Lonsdorf said, is to fix up Ayumu with some real competition on these tests: little kids.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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