Study turns to ape intellect

2012-06-25 08:30

Washington - The more we study animals, the less special we seem.

Baboons can distinguish between written words and gibberish. Monkeys seem to be able to do multiplication. Apes can delay instant gratification longer than a human child can. They plan ahead. They make war and peace. They show empathy. They share.

"It's not a question of whether they think - it's how they think," says Duke University scientist Brian Hare. Now scientists wonder if apes are capable of thinking about what other apes are thinking.

The evidence that animals are more intelligent and more social than we thought seems to grow each year, especially when it comes to primates. It's an increasingly hot scientific field with the number of ape and monkey cognition studies doubling in recent years, often with better technology and neuroscience paving the way to unusual discoveries.

This month scientists mapping the DNA of the bonobo ape found that, like the chimp, bonobos are only 1.3% different from humans.

Says Josep Call, director of the primate research centre at the Max Planck Institute in Germany: "Every year we discover things that we thought they could not do."

Call says one of his recent more surprising studies showed that apes can set goals and follow through with them.

Orangutans and bonobos in a zoo were offered eight possible tools - two of which would help them get at some food. At times when they chose the proper tool, researchers moved the apes to a different area before they could get the food, and then kept them waiting as much as 14 hours. In nearly every case, when the apes realized they were being moved, they took their tool with them so they could use it to get food the next day, remembering that even after sleeping. The goal and series of tasks didn't leave the apes' minds.

Amazing monkey memory

Call says this is similar to a person packing luggage a day before a trip: "For humans it's such a central ability, it's so important."

For a few years, scientists have watched chimpanzees in zoos collect and store rocks as weapons for later use. In May, a study found they even add deception to the mix. They created haystacks to conceal their stash of stones from opponents, just like nations do with bombs.

Hare points to studies where competing chimpanzees enter an arena where one bit of food is hidden from view for only one chimp. The chimp that can see the hidden food, quickly learns that his foe can't see it and uses that to his advantage, displaying the ability to perceive another ape's situation. That's a trait humans develop as toddlers, but something we thought other animals never got, Hare said.

And then there is the amazing monkey memory.

At the National Zoo in Washington, humans who try to match their recall skills with an orangutan's are humbled. Zoo associate director Don Moore says: "I've got a PhD for God's sake, you would think I could out-think an orang and I can't."

In French research, at least two baboons kept memorizing so many pictures - several thousand - that after three years researchers ran out of time before the baboons reached their limit. Researcher Joel Fagot at the French National Center for Scientific Research figured they could memorize at least 10 000 and probably more.

And a chimp in Japan named Ayumu who sees strings of numbers flash on a screen for a split-second regularly beats humans at accurately duplicating the lineup. He's a YouTube sensation, along with orangutans in a Miami zoo that use iPads.

It's not just primates that demonstrate surprising abilities.

Dolphins, whose brains are 25% heavier than humans, recognize themselves in a mirror. So do elephants. A study in June finds that black bears can do primitive counting, something even pigeons have done, by putting two dots before five, or 10 before 20 in one experiment.

Not as complex

The trend in research is to identify some new thinking skill that chimps can do, revealing that certain abilities are "not uniquely human," said Emory University primatologist Frans de Waal. Then the scientists find that same ability in other primates further removed from humans genetically. Then they see it in dogs and elephants.

"Capacities that we think in humans are very special and complex are probably not so special and not so complex," de Waal said. "This research in animals elevates the animals, but it also brings down the humans.... If monkeys can do it and maybe dogs and other animals, maybe it's not as complex as you think."

At Duke, professor Elizabeth Brannon shows videos of monkeys that appear to be doing a "fuzzy representation" of multiplication by following the number of dots that go into a box on a computer screen and choosing the right answer to come out of the box. This is after they've already done addition and subtraction.

This spring in France, researchers showed that six baboons could distinguish between fake and real four-letter words - BRRU vs KITE, for example. And they chose to do these computer-based exercises of their own free will, either for fun or a snack.

It was once thought the control of emotions and the ability to empathize and socialize separated us from our primate cousins. But chimps console, and fight, each other. They also try to soothe an upset companion, grooming and putting their arms around him.

"I see plenty of empathy in my chimpanzees," de Waal said. But studies have shown they also go to war against neighboring colonies, killing the males and taking the females. That's something that also is very human and led people to believe that war-making must go back in our lineage 6 million years, de Waal said.

  • CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 08:45

    Yet more evidence of our link to a distant common ancestor that we humans share with the great apes. Charles Darwin, you were a genius.

      Celtis - 2012-06-25 09:26

      CorparalGaza - Why is this evidence? If you design a car then you start with the basic bits like wheels, body, steering and engine. The size and quantity may differ but the functionality is the same. Basic system design or evolution? You choose.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 09:36

      H0utk0p, remember the first car? Now there are many variations way more advanced than the first would you not agree? Design my @r3e

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 09:49

      And using something mechanical as an example is a big fail as we're talking biological here. No designer needed, just nature.

      Celtis - 2012-06-25 13:42

      ManskapGaza – “..remember the first car?” Actually I don’t but there are some fossils and photos that I saw. However I do not remember the first biological life nor have I seen any photos or fossils of it despite continuous studies by abiogenists. “And using something mechanical as an example is a big fail as we're talking biological here.” Why? Ever heard of biocomputers?

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 13:56

      Ag nee Stinkhol, I can't respond to your nonsensical reply. Evolution does not concern itself with abiogenisis by the way, that is a whole different study on it's own.

      Celtis - 2012-06-25 14:02

      Yep troepGaza, you sure need more evolving cause your not there yet. Beam me up Scotty since there is no form of intelligent life here.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 14:15

      Ok Stinkgat, leave me to evolve while you stagnate chomma. Scotty beam him up!!!

      Celtis - 2012-06-25 15:01

      MemeMan say there is no choice between system design and evolution. I would like to differ. Let me ask the question differently but please free your mind of any constraints and start with a blank page. Almost said be creative but forget that. If you were to design a system with many components integrating in the same environment and constrained by same factors, how would you do it?

      skootzie - 2012-06-25 15:38

      Stinkhout : While I won't go so far as to answer your question to MemeMan, I'd like to point something out, if I may. .. Your entire argument is based on the premise that because something is complex therefore something/someone must have created/designed it. This argument is known as teleology and is, put simply, "...any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature." In other words, you believe that because the car (with all it's complex workings) was designed and built by man then it follows logic to presume that the infinitely more complex nature of life must therefore also have a designer.

      Celtis - 2012-06-25 16:56

      Skootzie – You got me close to check-mate. However, I’m not for or against any particular point of view but rather questioning the basis of some assumptions and the view from another perspective. CaptainGAZA stated that the above article is more prove of evolution but is it? When reading the above article it reminded me of Pierre Pica’s research in the Amazon and the interesting information on how the human mind deals with numbers. So that lead to asking my original question of why this is proof. Personally I think we take all information to easily at face value and base our knowledge on that. Should we not test it first? To measure is to know.

  • glynn.taylor.37 - 2012-06-25 09:25

    The evidence that humans and other animals are fundamentally the same is overwhelming, but there are two very good reasons why people ignore the obvious - firstly, most people are religious and are therefore obliged to believe that we are in some way special (Gods chosen species - how arrogant can you get?). Secondly, if you accept that we are merely animals, and that animals feel what we feel, you would feel extremely guilty about the way in which people treat animals, and people will do just about anything to avoid guilt, even if it means believing something that is obviously false.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 10:10

      Yes Bardy, god just loves testing your faith as god is the concept by which you measure your faith, not so? And "might have" sounds awfully like a personal opinion.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 10:51

      Bardy, you need to wake up and smell the coffee dude. Evolution has been proven, just because you say is hasn't doesn't make it so. The truth you speak of is staring you square in the face, but because you chose to believe in fairytales you are clearly blinded to it, but hey, if loving a fairytale makes you feel happy, go for it. - 2012-06-25 11:33

      @ Bardy: "hrough life with absolutely no idea of what will happen to you when you die" - neither do you. NONE of you do. , but at least I have the prospect {...} - thats ALL you have and ever will have. A prospect. Of some fairytale land in the sky. Awesome. So actually you have nothing more than we have that live our life not governed by a (made up) PROSPECT. Good luck! - same to you.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 11:33

      Bardy, that is just your opinion at the end of the day. I would have lived a full life without fear of being judged and being threatened with eternal damnation. When I die I will be dead, finish and klaar. You on the other hand are living a life of fear and retribution incase you're right. How can you live your life on a "what if"? Anyways, let's agree to disagree on this one as we're clearly on different sides of the fence on this issue.

      skootzie - 2012-06-25 13:09

      // Have you ever though of the fact that God just might have created things the way they are to test our faith? // No. Why? Because I don't suffer from delusions of grandeur. Also, I don't like the idea of being a guinea pig. Put to a series of tests for some cosmic scientists' curiosity. // Believe what you want to believe... Just don't try and persuade everybody else to do the same! // Good advice, something 33,000 denominations of Christianity should take to heart. // I am not here to argue with you. Its just a shame that you are going through life with absolutely no idea of what will happen to you when you die. // Death is inevitable, there is nothing anyone can do to stop it. Many of us have accepted it; the fact that you still think about what will happen after you die shows that you haven't accepted and thus resort to needing an escape; in this case, the belief that there is an afterlife.

  • Frank - 2012-06-25 11:25

    No question I can see the mental relationship and common DNA which you guys have even some the pics look similar .

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 11:39

      Did you recognise an old school photo of yourself there Frank?

  • chris.grobbelaar1 - 2012-06-25 11:39

    To all the apes below. I would rather believe that God created us in His image, than my ancestors were apes. God is not a man that he will lie and He will also not be mocked by man. All creation points to Him. One day He will reveal Himself and I will make sure that I do not stand ashamed...

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 11:44

      Chris, don't be surprised if god looks like a great ape then hey!!! - 2012-06-25 11:49

      "God is not a man that he will lie"....come again? ... and He will also not be mocked by man.... are you sure? Whats he gonna do?

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 12:00

      Abomonations??? I thought I was created in god's image??? That's not fair of you Brady, and by the way, neither do you.

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 12:21

      Yay for you Brady. Which god should I be fearful of by the way, your god or Mohamed's god down the road? And guess what, I already know what's in store for you and me both, and I don't need a book written by bronze aged peeps to tell me that!

      CaptainGaza - 2012-06-25 12:41

      Agreed dude, absolutely pointless.

      skootzie - 2012-06-25 13:24

      Re Bardy's quotes ... and this is why so many Atheists stand up against religion. The blatant hostility, lack of respect and overwhelming hubris are exactly what is wrong with religion. It encourages a holier-than-thou superiority complex driven by delusions of grandeur, coupled with a superstitious belief that was invented by a primitive people that honestly believed the gods controlled the weather across a flat world.

      antin.herinck - 2012-06-25 13:51

      "If you reject God... It's the same as having sex with animals! And being gay!" So let me get this right. If I say you religiots are a bunch of deluded fools, with your god and all -it's the same as if I screw my neighbour's male dog? The same to whom/what? Myself? -no! My neighbour's dog? -no! (but ask him if you doubt it) To you? -I don't give a damn, Go try and screw my neighbour's dog for all I care. To god? -where's he now? I want to ask him personally, instead of getting his alleged opinion from a self-contradicting book of fairy tales, interpreted in conflicting ways by 1000's of different groups who all claim to "know the truth".

      Sean de Beer - 2012-06-25 22:32

      look up IMAGE in the dictionary . You will see that the definition is not limited to physical attributes. LIKENESS would be a more appropriate translation. Do you honestly think that God is a giant human in the sky? You have much to learn.

  • jody.beggs - 2012-06-25 12:46

    To all the Religious retards that , think they are above animals ... Idjits. Damn the man.

      merven.halo - 2012-06-25 13:21

      The religious people will now only change the context in which the read the bible.

  • Jurgen Dieter - 2015-07-10 21:04

    I would rather be a rising ape than a falling angel. Terry Pratchett

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