Score one for the tykes—researchers find that two-year-old toddlers are more socially mature than adult chimps and orangutans. In tests, all the species on average showed a similar facility with physical tasks, but human tots were more than twice as competent when it came to dealing with social challenges. In one task, for instance, the subjects had to retrieve a piece of food from inside a tube. The youngsters swiftly removed the morsel by following the lead of the experimenter, but the chimps and orangs bit, scratched and pummeled the container in a number of mostly futile attempts. The finding contradicts the “general intelligence hypothesis”—which states that humans are different from other apes because our brains are three times bigger, allowing for greater cognitive skills. Instead it supports the “cultural intelligence hypothesis,” in which heightened social skills are unique to humans, who needed them to exchange information within groups and cultures. Swing open the September 7 Science for more.
This article was originally published with the title "No Monkeying Around" in Scientific American 297, 5, 36 (November 2007)