Chimpanzees Beat Humans In Memory Tests

09/30/2013 01:52 pm ET

Unless someone has been monkeying around with the research data, chimps are making chumps out of humans when it comes to memory tests.

In an interview published this Sunday in the Guardian, Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a professor at Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute in Inuyama, Japan, explains three decades of research have led him to the firm conclusion that chimpanzees have much better short-term memories than people.

"We've concluded through the cognitive tests that chimps have extraordinary memories," Matsuzawa said. "They can grasp things at a glance."

Matsuzawa theorizes that, as humans gained certain cognitive abilities -- like language -- they lost their ancestors' superior memory capabilities.

"Our ancestors may have also had photographic memories, but we lost that during evolution so that we could acquire new skills," Matsuzawa said. "To get something, we had to lose something."

In 2007, New Scientist reported on one of Matsuzawa's studies and its findings:

Three adult female chimps, their three 5-year-old offspring, and university student volunteers were tested on their ability to memorize the numbers 1 to 9 appearing at random locations on a touchscreen monitor.

The chimps had previously been taught the ascending order of the numbers. Using an ability akin to photographic memory, the young chimps were able to memorize the location of the numerals with better accuracy than humans performing the same task.

Live Science explains the likely reason behind why chimps have such stellar "working memory," a form of short-term memory that "allows the brain to juggle multiple thoughts simultaneously."

Chimps often need to make quick decisions that take multiple factors into consideration, LiveScience states. Working memory helps chimpanzees "navigate the branches of huge trees to feed," and also aids them in making tactical decisions when confronted by groups of rival chimps.

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