Kyoto University Chimps & College Students Memory Experiment

The chimpanzee Ai and her infant Ayumu at 2 years and 4 months. Both are engaged in their own computer task inside a testing booth (Photo by Mainichi Newspaper)

Kyoto University in Japan had college students and chimps match wits with a number game. Although this experiment dates back to 2007, it is still very interesting and though you would like to know about it. What the results showed was truly surprising.

The experiment went like this. Both the college students and the chimps were placed in front of an interactive screen where a series of five numbers that ranged between 1 and 9 were flashed on a screen for a predetermined amount of time between 210 milliseconds to 650 milliseconds. The numbers then were replaced by white squares. The students then needed to recreate the sequence by touching the white squares in order to replicate the sequence that they just saw. At the 610 millisecond (about .61 seconds), the chimps and the college students both were able to recreate the sequences about 80 percent of the time. However, by the time the sequence flashes were scaled down to 210 milliseconds, the college students’ success rate was only about 40 percent, while the chimps retained their 80 percent success rate.

This experiment created new insights into primate memory. This is a great news story to introduce to your students when exploring primates, evolution, intelligence, memory and comparative concepts. It is also a great discussion starter.

If you are interested in more studies that Kyoto University in Japan are conducting with primates, look here.

Developing super science fair projects is not always easy to do. However, by using science magazines and news articles, you can easily come up with ideas for life science experiments.

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