Chimpanzees are better at computer games than children
To compare the cognitive abilities of humans and chimps, scientists
pitted them against each other in a virtual reality maze game.
A young chimpanzee looks in to the distance.
In an experiment that seems worryingly like a prelude to Planet of
the Apes-like situation, a chimpanzee has significantly outperformed
humans in a computer game.
To compare the cognitive abilities of chimps and humans, researchers
challenged human and chimp participants to complete a complex maze in a
virtual-reality computer game. The participants were split evenly by
gender, and comprised twelve children aged between three and 12 years
old, four adults, and four adult chimps from the Language Research
Centre at Georgia State University.
To make their findings, scientists recorded how much distance the
gamers covered before completing the maze - not before coaxing both
human and chimp participants with bookstore vouchers, stickers, and
In the game, players navigated through alleys and around brick walls
to find the goal. A blue square would tell the player they were
following the right path, whereas a brown triangle signalled they were
going the wrong way.
"Everything about testing is easier on a computer screen. You have so
much more control, especially in non-human animals. You can't just take
them to a mall and say, 'Go from here to there,'" Dorothy Fragaszy, the
director of the Primate Cognition and Behaviour Laboratory at the
University of Georgia in Athens, said. She had worked with all of the
chimps in the virtual-reality study before, but was not a part of the
During the most difficult round, a chimp called Panzee worked out a
significantly shorter route around the maze in comparison any of the
children, and even some of the human adult participants.
"The humans would ask me for answers, but I would tell them, 'I can't
give the chimps answers,'" said Francine Dolins, a primatologist. Dolins
believes that the Panzee's success reflects a trend in captive chimps.
While an ape raised in the Language Research Centre is well-fed from
birth and is not pressured to compete for food in the same way as a wild
chimp, Dolins believe the study reflects behaviour retained from the
In their natural habitat, male chimps search for food in groups, and
attack unwary females who are forced to find more conspicuous sources
for their food.
"In the small number of studies I've done, females do better than
males" on goal-oriented maze and puzzle games, she said.
- The Independent