Chimps astound with memory skills

Ayumu the chimpanzee in his enclosure in Kyoto. Photograph: Primate Research Institute

Ayumu the chimpanzee in his enclosure in Kyoto. Photograph: Primate Research Institute

Fri, Feb 15, 2013, 00:00

The animated baboon King Louis in Jungle Book wanted to be like a human, but the traffic isn’t all one way amongst the primates. Chimpanzees have something useful for us to covet – an astounding short term memory.

A presentation at the ongoing American Association for the Advancement of Science in Boston this afternoon will discuss the latest findings in primate brain power. It will feature the chimp Ai at Kyoto University that has something akin to a photographic memory and will also discuss findings about how chimps can suffer from anxiety attacks, depression and post-traumatic stress, just like humans.

Prof Tetsuro Matsuzawa in Kyoto’s primate research institute is studying the chimp Ai and her son Ayumu and the remarkable feats of memory they can achieve.

He developed a system where the chimp touches a button on a screen and the numbers one through 10 flash up in random order in various squares on a grid. The challenge is to touch each square in ascending order, but as soon as you touch number one all others are hidden from view, presenting a incredibly difficult test of working memory.

This would be a challenge for any of us, having to produce the correct order. How remarkable then that Ai can do the same thing, recognising the numbers and touching them in their proper order. A video documents Ai’s skills and similar skills in her son Ayumu.

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