Chimpanzees have a short-term photographic memory. Picture: T. Lersch,
Reading Chimpanzees can remember rows of numbers faster and better than humans. This has been demonstrated by Japanese behavioral researchers in experiments in which the human and animal subjects were shown on a screen number patterns. After hiding the numbers, the monkeys could better remember their arrangement than the students of a Japanese university. The results showed that people with their cognitive abilities are not generally superior to animals. The scientists first taught the six monkeys from the Primate Center of the University of Kyoto to recognize the Arabic numerals from 1 to 9 and sort them in ascending order. At the first of the comparison tests between humans and monkeys, the researchers then showed the subjects on a screen the nine numbers that were distributed in any grid on the monitor. When the subjects touched the first digit, the numbers were obscured by small white squares. Subsequently, the subjects had to tap the squares in the order given by the numbers? a task that the monkeys usually managed better and faster than the humans (see movie below).

The chimpanzees also proved to be more successful and nimble in the second test. In this attempt, a five-digit arrangement appeared on the screen at the push of a button and disappeared again under the white squares after 650, 430 or 210 thousandths of a second. While the number of correctly typed squares in humans dropped sharply, the shorter the numbers were shown, the results in the monkeys remained almost constant, the analysis showed.

The monkeys have shown some kind of photographic memory, Tetsuro Matsuzawa from the University of Kyoto explains the results. This ability to remember images in all details for a short time is often observed in children, but usually loses with age.


Sana Inoue and Tetsuro Matsuzawa (University of Kyoto): Current Biology, Volume 17, December 23, New Scientist ddp / Ulrich Dewald


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