Baboons, smarter than you thought.
mhonan at earthlink.net
mhonan at earthlink.net
Mon Oct 15 12:47:18 EDT 2001
Lab tests suggest baboons share intelligence traits with humans, chimpanzees
JOSEPH B. VERRENGIA, AP Science Writer
Sunday, October 14, 2001
©2001 Associated Press
(10-14) 22:08 PDT (AP) --
Baboons in laboratory experiments showed hints of abstract thinking
by picking out various images on a computer screen, a surprising
finding that raises new questions about evolution and what
distinguishes humans from the rest of the animal kingdom.
Scientists in France and the United States cautioned that only two
baboons participated in the comparative tests, and those monkeys were
veterans of earlier cognitive experiments.
And, the baboons had to repeat the tests thousands of times to learn
how sets of images were the same or different.
Even so, researchers said, the results suggest baboons are capable of
analogical judgment -- the kind of "this-is-to-that" comparisons that
psychologists say is fundamental to reasoning.
Previously, chimpanzees were the only non-human primates to
demonstrate similar skills in experiments. Baboons are Old World
monkeys that split from humans and apes on the primate family tree 30
million years ago.
"Although discriminating the relation between relations may not be an
intellectual forte of baboons, it nevertheless is within their ken,"
reported Joel Fagot of the Center for Research in Cognitive
Neuroscience in Marseille, France.
Fagot's research, with Edward Wasserman and Michael E. Young of the
University of Iowa, was published in the October issue of the Journal
of Experimental Psychology.
Other researchers said the finding is important because it shows that
understanding the relationships between things -- what is the same
and what is different -- does not necessarily require language to
identify or describe them.
The experiment holds "clear implications for understanding the
evolution of the mind," said psychologist Kimberly Kirkpatrick of the
University of York in England, who was not involved in the experiment
but reviewed the findings.
"The baboon's ability to match relations may be a precursor to human
analogical thinking," Kirkpatrick said. "Studying the cognitive
abilities in non-humans is analogous to using the fossil record to
construct the course of evolution in the body."
In the experiments, researchers showed baboons, one male and one
female, sets of 16 images. One image set comprised rows of little
pictures -- the sun, a light bulb, a brain, a hand. Another set
repeated the same image -- all telephones, for example.
One image or set of images was shown, and the baboons had to pick
images similar to or different from those shown, depending on the
test. Using a computer joystick, the baboons had 10 seconds to move
the computer cursor to images on the screen.
When the baboons made a correct choice they would hear a high musical
tone and be rewarded with a banana-flavored food pellet. Incorrect
choices were met with a low tone and a 7-second time out, then the
test would be repeated.
The baboons needed as many as 700 trials before they would
consistently distinguish between the two image sets, the researchers
Subsequent tests added new image sets -- some with variety (clock,
brain, hand, triangle) others repeating the same image (all flowers).
The baboons had to sift through the new images alongside the sets
they already had learned.
For example, in early tests, a task might be to match the sets of
all-flower images. But in more advanced tests, baboons might be shown
a set of all-flower images, then shown a set of all-triangles and
sets containing a variety of images.
The correct answer? Flowers and triangles. It wasn't important to
match the actual images. The abstract lesson was to find like sets.
In these experiments, the baboons needed as many as 7,000 tries
before they could perform the tests with 80 percent accuracy.
Humans who took the same tests were able to master them in 100 tries
or less, they said.
Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky, who has studied wild baboons in
Africa for 23 years, said the monkeys might have demonstrated sharper
intellect if the tests had used items that were important to baboons'
"The learning would take place even faster if they had been shown
pictures of the foods that baboons eat, pictures of different members
of the baboon troop, pictures of different predators," Sapolsky said.
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