Scientists prove similarity between working memory abilities of humans and chimpanzees

Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna devoted research to study the working memory abilities of chimpanzees.

In order to examine the memory abilities of the chimpanzees, researchers presented them with a task. The chimpanzees were supposed to search for food in small opaque boxes. In the process, the chimpanzees were allowed to watch how food items were hidden in boxes. The apes were then asked to search for the items by pointing at the containers one by one. If they could guess the correct carton with the food item, they were given the food as a reward. Moreover, after every choice, the boxes were kept covered for 15 seconds.

In order to retrieve all food items, the chimpanzees had to remember which boxes they had already asked to open for food. Furthermore, the level of difficulty was raised depending upon the ability of the chimpanzees. The number of boxes were increased and they were also shuffled between every search.

Results concluded a similarity between human working memory and that of the chimpanzees. It was also observed that the best-performing chimpanzee could remember at least four items, while one young chimpanzee could remember seven items. It was noted that the chimpanzees depended on both the appearances of the boxes as well as on their positions to remember their previous choice.

According to the experts, humans performed worse in the memory tests, if they were asked to do something in parallel. Similarly, chimpanzees’ performance also declined if they were asked to perform a second task of similar nature.

The experts draw attention to the fact that difference between chimpanzees and humans did not lay in the working memory capacity but in the search strategies which humans applied to the task, such ideas were not thought by the chimpanzees while searching for boxes arranged in line from one side to the other.

In conclusion, scientists believe that chimpanzees like humans had similar working abilities which allowed them to remember previous events and actions. Furthermore, chimpanzees’ working capacity was no different from the human capacity.

“Our findings suggest that chimpanzees perform similar to seven-year-old children in an intuitive working memory task that does not rely on extensive training,” said Christoph Voelter, expert from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.