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Young chimps top adult humans in numerical memory
Date:12/3/2007

Young chimpanzees have an extraordinary ability to remember numerals that is superior to that of human adults, researchers report in the December 4th issue of Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press.

There are still many people, including many biologists, who believe that humans are superior to chimpanzees in all cognitive functions, said Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University. No one can imagine that chimpanzeesyoung chimpanzees at the age of fivehave a better performance in a memory task than humans. Here we show for the first time that young chimpanzees have an extraordinary working memory capability for numerical recollectionbetter than that of human adults tested in the same apparatus, following the same procedure.

Chimpanzee memory has been extensively studied, the researchers said. The general assumption is that, as with many other cognitive functions, it is inferior to that of humans. However, some data have suggested that, in some circumstances, chimpanzee memory may indeed be superior to human memory.

In the current study, the researchers tested three pairs of mother and infant chimpanzees (all of which had already learned the ascending order of Arabic numerals from 1 to 9) against university students in a memory task of numerals. One of the mothers, named Ai, was the first chimpanzee who learned to use Arabic numerals to label sets of real-life objects with the appropriate number.

In the new test, the chimps or humans were briefly presented with various numerals from 1 to 9 on a touch-screen monitor. Those numbers were then replaced with blank squares, and the test subject had to remember which numeral appeared in which location and touch the squares in the appropriate order.

The young chimpanzees could grasp many numerals at a glance, with no change in performance as the hold durationthe amount of time that the numbers remained on the screenwas varied, the researchers found. In general, the performanc
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Contact: Cathleen Genova
cgenova@cell.com
617-397-2802
Cell Press
Source:Eurekalert

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