[monkeywire] Chimps outperform human toddlers on spacial, counting tests
brooklynite282 at gmail.com
Sat Sep 8 01:18:58 EDT 2007
Monkey see for toddlers, but chimps do it their way
Deborah Smith Science Editor
September 7, 2007 - 6:01AM
TODDLERS and their closest ape relatives can hold their heads high.
A landmark study comparing the abilities of hundreds of chimpanzees
and two-year-old children has revealed each have special talents.
Surprisingly, the chimps performed slightly better on some spatial and
counting tests than the children. But the children far outstripped
their hairy cousins on social skills such as imitating others to solve
Human brains are three times bigger than those of apes, but until now
it had not been known whether humans were innately better at most
mental tasks, or only some, according to researchers led by Esther
Herrmann, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in
Her team gave the same battery of tests to 105 children in Germany,
106 chimpanzees in the Republic of Congo and Uganda, and 32
orang-utans in Indonesia.
"We compared the three species to determine which abilities and skills
are distinctly human," she said.
Raisins, a favourite food, were used as treats for the apes, while the
children were rewarded with little toys.
Overall, apes and humans scored about equal on most simple physical
skills, such as correctly locating a treat placed under one of three
cups, or choosing a plate with the largest number of treats on it. The
chimps, however, were slightly better at tracking where the treat
ended up after a person slid the cups around to new positions. These
skills were important for navigating and foraging in the wild, Dr
Herrmann said. "Apes have to anticipate moving prey, and find trees
Chimps could also count better than toddlers. They were presented with
one cup with three raisins in it and one with two. The wily apes knew
that if two more raisins were dropped into the latter cup, then four
was a bigger number than three and that was the cup to choose. "They
had to add it in their head," Dr Herrmann said.
This result suggested that basic maths skills evolved long ago in a
common ape ancestor of humans and chimps.
In the social skills tests, however, the children were correct 74 per
cent of the time, while the apes only managed to get 33 per cent
right. The tests included realising that a person pointing at a cup,
or reaching for a box, meant it held the treat.
Dr Herrmann said the results, published the journal Science, supported
the theory that, rather than having higher all-round intelligence,
humans evolved specialised skills of social interaction that led to a
culture of learning and communication.
A child on a desert island with no one to teach them, for example,
would not develop distinctive human skills such as language and
mathematics, she said.
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