The curious collection of a slightly mad scientist
A chimp genius can complete a computer memory test in less time than it takes the average person to blink – and much faster than any human rival. But do the world’s cleverest animals enjoy these cognitive tasks?Ayumu, who was born and raised in Japan’s Kyoto University, can remember the location and order of a set of numbers in record time. Sixty milliseconds to be precise.
Of course, it is not “natural” behaviour for a chimp to interact with a computer screen, but scientists suggest this type of task could be good for captive apes.
“Unfortunately, captive great apes often exhibit behavioural signs of boredom, frustration and stress,” says Fay Clark from the Royal Veterinary College’s Centre for Animal Welfare. Working with the Zoological Society of London, Ms Clark has recently published a review of research investigating whether challenges that get captive apes thinking can enhance their well-being. “If an ape does not receive enough cognitive challenge in life, this can lead to abnormal behaviours or a lack of interest in the environment,” she tells BBC Nature.
“The key is for scientists to develop challenges which are relevant, motivating, and ultimately solvable if they are going to be used as enrichment.”As one of the world’s longest-running laboratory-based studies of chimpanzees, the Ai Project has been investigating chimp intelligence for over 30 years.
Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa began his research with a one-year-old female chimp Ai, the namesake of the project, in 1977. Over the years the team investigated Ai’s brain power by observing her as she learned to complete tasks including number and object recognition.In 2000, Ai gave birth to a son, Ayumu, who has since become the number-crunching star of the study, and features in the series Super Smart Animals, for BBC One and the Discovery Channel.
Ayumu’s daily routine resembles that of many 11-year-olds: sleep, eat, play and learn.During his “study sessions” he receives a treat every time he correctly remembers the location of the numbers on screen and selects them in order.”
Ayumu and others can do the task with social praise. Food reward is not the essential matter,” Prof Matsuzawa says. He says the chimps all go to the testing room of their own free will, and “they love to do so”.”It is not only Ayumu but also the other young ones who have the better memory than naive human adults,” he says. …