Tetsuro Matsuzawa: ‘Chimps beat undergrads in memory test’

Random numbers appeared on a touchscreen. After a fraction of a second, the numbers were masked by white squares. The chimps remembered the location of the numbers, and were able to touch them in numerical order.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa: In a chimpanzee’s mind, their intelligence is so flexible. So they can learn Arabic numerals from one through nine, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9, just like human kids.

That’s Tetsuro Matsuzawa of the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University, in Japan. Matsuzawa trained chimps to recognize the numbers one through nine. He found that they outperformed college undergrads in a short-term memory test.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa: I tested three young chimpanzees at the age of five, and we gave Arabic numerals flashed on the computer monitor.

Random numbers appeared on a touchscreen. After a fraction of a second, the numbers were masked by white squares. The chimps remembered the location of the numbers, and were able to touch them in numerical order.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa: And I did tests of up to eight numerals. And young chimpanzees had no problem at all. But if you test undergraduate students in a college, five numerals are already very difficult.

The undergrads accuracy dropped to 40 percent. Matsuzawa said that learning about the chimpanzee mind can tell us something about ourselves.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa: Now, chimpanzees can be a good bridge between humans and the rest of animals. We are a member of the animal kingdom. So humans, animals, we should be living together peacefully co-existing, sharing this beautiful planet Earth.

Our thanks to:
Tetsuro Matsuzawa
Primate Research Institute
Kyoto University
Japan

Jorge Salazar