Are you smarter than a chimp?
Don't count on it. Japanese researchers pit young chimps against human adults in short-term memory tests—and, lo and behold, monkey, um, ape beat man. "No one could imagine that chimpanzees—young chimpanzees at the age of five—have a better performance in a memory task than humans," researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University said in a statement. In one test, chimps taught to count from one to nine (in return for a peanut or other treat) competed with a dozen human volunteers in monitoring numbers that turned into squares on a computer screen. The goal was to touch all the squares in order of the numerals they replaced. Researchers report in Current Biology that the chimpanzees—although no more accurate—were quicker on the uptake than people. One chimp, Ayumu, was particularly swift—and was chosen to participate in a second test with nine college students. This time, five numbers flashed on the screen before they were replaced by squares. The contestants again had to touch the squares in proper sequence. When the numbers were displayed for about seven tenths of a second, Ayumu and the college students both scored correctly about 80 percent of the time. But when the figures flashed for just four tenths or two tenths of a second, the chimp trumped all, still hitting about 80 percent of the time, whereas his human challengers' success rate plummeted to 40 percent. This indicates that Ayumu was better at grasping many numerals at a glance, the researchers said. So what's the deal? Matsuzawa told the Associated Press that he thinks the chimps had the edge, because they were younger and, also, human ancestors lost much of this skill over time to free brain space for language ability. He noted that the young chimps' memory ability could be likened to "eidetic imagery" (photographic memory), a special ability to retain a detailed and accurate image of a complex scene or pattern found in some human children, but which, alas, fades with age. In fact, the young chimps also outperformed older chimps in the study. Good to know human primates weren't the only losers! [http://www.cnn.com/2007/TECH/science/12/03/chimp.memory.ap/index.html]
Computers are going to the dogs
Need help sorting those pictures for your photo album? You might want to ask Rover to lend a paw. In a recent study conducted at the University of Vienna in Austria and published online in Animal Cognition, four dogs were shown simultaneously photographs depicting either landscapes or canines and trained (read: rewarded with a yummy treat when successful) to select the pix of pups. After the training sessions, the dogs were placed in front of computer touch screens with other landscape and pooch photos and instructed to choose the latter. The pups consistently selected the doggie photographs, demonstrating an ability to transfer knowledge from their training. The canine computer users were later shown new dog pictures pasted onto familiar landscapes as well as new landscape snapshots sans the dogs—and asked to choose the photos with the animals, which they did. Researchers are not sure whether the dog "volunteers" felt a kinship with the hounds in the photos (recognizing them as members of the same species), but they say the tests pave the way for researchers to use this technology to compare the cognitive abilities of different species. Now if we could only teach dogs to walk themselves...