Cambridge psychologist undercuts ‘legendary’ chimp’s intelligence

Emily Loud - News Editor 22 June 2012

Scientists at the Primate Research Institute in Kyoto have found that Ayumu, a chimpanzee, can beat any human competitor at a particular number game.

The numbers one to nine appear on a screen for a split second, and the chimp tracks their course on the screen with his index finger once the numbers have disappeared.

So far, no human has been able to complete the game faster than the chimp.

Researchers first noticed the chimp’s abilities in 2007, and since then Ayumu’s intelligence has been recognized as considerable, even earning him a place on the BBC documentary series “Super Smart Animals” earlier this year.

Theories have abounded to explain his aptitude, which appears to make his memory skills superior to those of humans.

However, psychologist Nicholas Humphrey, a Senior Member of Darwin College, has suggested the chimp isn’t quite so much of a prodigy.

In an upcoming essay, Humphrey suggests Ayumu could have a brain condition that allows him to see numbers in colours, thus allowing him to perform faster than any human relying on their memory alone.

The human brain condition, called synaesthesia, allows people to attach sensory experiences to letters or numbers.

Humphrey said a simple experiment which changes the game so that the numbers become obscured by coloured rather than white squares would test his theory.

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, who has been observing Ayumu, declined to comment directly on Humphrey’s theory, but said he has no plans to test the chimp in this way.

Emily Loud – News Editor