Monday, March 25, 2013

The Brains of the Animal Kingdom

New research shows that we have grossly underestimated both the scope and the scale of animal intelligence. Primatologist Frans de Waal on memory-champ chimps, tool-using elephants and rats capable of empathy. 

[image]A herd of African elephants drink water at a dam inside the Addo Elephant National Park near Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

Who is smarter: a person or an ape? Well, it depends on the task. Consider Ayumu, a young male chimpanzee at Kyoto University who, in a 2007 study, put human memory to shame. Trained on a touch screen, Ayumu could recall a random series of nine numbers, from 1 to 9, and tap them in the right order, even though the numbers had been displayed for just a fraction of a second and then replaced with white squares.

I tried the task myself and could not keep track of more than five numbers—and I was given much more time than the brainy ape. In the study, Ayumu outperformed a group of university students by a wide margin. The next year, he took on the British memory champion Ben Pridmore and emerged the "chimpion."

For the rest of the story: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323869604578370574285382756.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories

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