06 December 2007

Ayumu, the amazing chimp and the college students

CNN tells an interesting story about a chimp that easily beat nine college students in memory tests.

Even with six months of training, three students failed to catch up to the three young chimps, Matsuzawa said in an e-mail.
Here is how the scientist explains the results:
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's needed for the tests resembles a skill found in children, but which dissipates with age.
The explanation of the phenomenon sucks in my opinion: there is a link to the age, indeed, but it is not that direct and straightforward.
  • First of all, it is known only too well what are the college students obsessed with, and it is definitely not studies, scientific experiments or competition against some chimp.
  • Then the issue of stimuli. Ayumu is getting his banana (or mango or whatever) for good performance. Go motivate your college student with a banana... duh. See the previous point.
  • Now about the chimps' long range plans. It should be clear that the really clever chimps (and the tests show that most of them are clever enough) know that showing too much intelligence might mean going through the torture of 15 years of schooling and an office job (in a good case). Ayumu is, most probably, one of the more stupid chimps, in fact.
So just send me some bananas, please, and leave me alone with your science...