Baboons, Birds Remember Hundreds of Photos

November 7, 2006

Pigeons and baboons can remember hundreds of images and store them in their brains for at least a year, according to a new study.

Over a five-year period pigeons in the test were able to learn and recall between 800 and 1,200 photographs before maxing out their thumb-sized brains.

Guinea baboons were tested for three and a half years. The big monkeys memorized between 3,500 and 5,000 images and never maxed out (baboon photos, audio, video, facts, and more).

Despite diverging from a common ancestor 250 million years ago, both species showed no difference in how they learned and recalled the images.

"The only difference is memory capacity, not the dynamics of memory," said Joel Fagot, a researcher with the Mediterranean Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience in Marseille, France.

(Related: Crows as Clever as Great Apes, Study Says" [December 9, 2004].)

Fagot and colleague Robert Cook, a professor of psychology at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, report the findings today in the early online edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to the researchers, the findings suggest that expansion of memory may have driven the evolution of intelligence.

"One way to think about it is to ask what an easy upgrade to a computer is," Cook said. "One of the easiest is to add a large hard disk."

Hard disks contain computer memory.

"You don't have to buy a new monitor or a new, faster [processor]. Just a bigger hard drive increases the performance of the machine. It makes more information available," he added.

Memory Tests

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