Chimps with Photographic Memories

Chimpanzees can routinely beat the best humans at instant memory recall. Here’s the blurb:

Ben Pridmore ranks in the number two spot for worldwide memory competitions, can memorize the order of a full deck of cards in only 30 seconds, and regularly memorizes numbers up to 400 digits long. But in a test performed by the British television program “Extraordinary Animals,” Pridmore’s performance fell far short of that of a seven-year-old male chimpanzee named Ayumu.

Imitating the format of a scientific study in which Ayumu had formerly participated, both human and chimpanzee watched a screen on which five numbers were displayed briefly before being replaced by white boxes. They then had to touch the blank boxes in the order of the numbers they had formerly displayed.

When the numbers were shown for only a fifth of a second, Ayumu still scored 90 percent correct; Pridmore’s score, on the other hand, was only 33 percent.

But in this video, you can see that the chimps take it up to 9! (No, not 11, that only happens in Spinal Tap.)

There is an entire YouTube bio on Ayumu, where you can also see more of the memory training. You can even try the memory game yourself! It’s freakin’ hard!

Here’s the reference for the 2007 article on chimp working memory by the Japanese researchers Sana Inoue and Tetsuro Matsuzawa. Or you can cheat, I’m sorry, help yourself to opened access and get the whole pdf.

For more on their and other Japanese scientists’ work, check out their home institution, the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University.

4 thoughts on “Chimps with Photographic Memories

  1. It’s all about peripheral vision. If the boxes are close together they can be smoked. If not, how many of them you can hit depends on whether they are clustered in a sequential order near where you were looking at the screen in the first part of the game.

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