Friday, 6 June 2014

Chimpanzees Can Outsmart Humans

Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions : Scientific Reports : Nature Publishing Group

It must be so difficult being a creationist these days.

Hard though it might be to accept, especially for creationists, chimpanzees outsmart humans when it comes to working out the best strategy in a competitive game based on game theory, as a team from the Department of Brain and Behavioral Sciences, Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Japan, show in a paper published in Scientific Reports this week.

The capacity for strategic thinking about the payoff-relevant actions of conspecifics is not well understood across species. We use game theory to make predictions about choices and temporal dynamics in three abstract competitive situations with chimpanzee participants. Frequencies of chimpanzee choices are extremely close to equilibrium (accurate-guessing) predictions, and shift as payoffs change, just as equilibrium theory predicts. The chimpanzee choices are also closer to the equilibrium prediction, and more responsive to past history and payoff changes, than two samples of human choices from experiments in which humans were also initially uninformed about opponent payoffs and could not communicate verbally. The results are consistent with a tentative interpretation of game theory as explaining evolved behavior, with the additional hypothesis that chimpanzees may retain or practice a specialized capacity to adjust strategy choice during competition to perform at least as well as, or better than, humans have.

Christopher Flynn Martin, Rahul Bhui, Peter Bossaerts, Tetsuro Matsuzawa & Colin Camerer;
Chimpanzee choice rates in competitive games match equilibrium game theory predictions; Scientific Reports 4, Article number: 5182 doi:10.1038/srep05182

According to Game Theory, there is a limit to the number of games that can be won by any player. This is known as the Nash Equilibrium. This was shown to be a limit by Nobel Laureate mathematician, John Forbes Nash Jr. When tested against university undergraduates and West African villagers, the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) learned the game more quickly and reached the Nash Equilibrium sooner than their human opponents.

The authors suggest that this could be related to the superior cognitive speed and short-term memory of chimpanzees. When given 'memory masking' tests chimpanzees not only perform better but faster than humans. In this test, when the lowest numerical image is touched on a computer screen, the other eight randomised images are masked with white squares. They then have to be touched in ascending order. Chimpanzees not only identify the lowest value more quickly than humans but are also more accurate in memorising the order of the masked images. In a similar test, when a set of five non-consecutive numerals are briefly shown before being masked, chimpanzees will also memorise the sequence more accurately and more quickly than humans.

The authors suggest that these superior abilities may be due to chimpanzees being generally more competitive than humans whilst humans are more cooperative. It is also suggested that humans may have lost some of this speed of cognition which we may once have shared with our closest relatives as parts of our brains were co-opted for speech, which gave us greater advantage than speed of learning.

So, even the discovery that chimpanzees are better than us at cognition, short-term memory and strategic thinking lends support to the idea that these are evolved abilities.

It must be so difficult being a creationist these days.

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  1. miss the point. The Creationists will either ignore this completely, or will say what "monkeys" do doesn't signify because, obviously, chimpanzees and humans were created separately.

  2. Can we now take it as a given that chimpanzees have better overall cognitive abilities than creationists do?

  3. Maybe the crowning work of creation is the creation of chimpanzees instead of humans, although the Bible teaches something else? Who knows, perhaps God then must look like a monkey since the crowning work of His creation is said to be made in the image of Him (in imaginem Dei)?


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