Study: Chimpanzees Play Games Better Than Kindergartners

A study conducted at the University of Michigan-Dearborn found that a 22-year-old female chimp named Panzee performed better at virtual reality computer game simulation than 12 children and four adults.

The study's author, primatologist Francine Dolins from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, used four adult chimps in a test against 12 children and four adults to see how well each species group performed against each other. In addition to recording general progress within the game, researchers also measured “travel efficiency,” or how much distance participants covered before beating the game. In this area Panzee proved to be the best overall player.

Researchers also found that, as the game's challenges became more complex, the humans tried to get answers from the researchers in the room.

“The humans would ask me for answers, but I would tell them, 'I can’t give the chimps answers,'” said Francine Dolins.

The humans and chimps were both evenly split in terms of gender. The humans were British; while the chimpanzees were from the Language Research Center at Georgia State University. All the primates at the LRC – chimps included – volunteer to participate in any given experiment. If a scientist asked Panzee, or any of her fellow chimps to work and she didn’t feel up to the task, she could shake her head "no."

The researchers acknowledged that some primates were coaxed into playing upon occasion using grapes, or the universal favorite, M&Ms. The human adults were coaxed along with the promise of a bookstore gift certificate, while the human kids were rewarded with pencils and stickers. Humans were given 10 to 20 training sessions, while the chimpanzees, who already had some experience with the joystick and similar virtual reality games, were given five to 10 sessions to review how the game worked.

Inside Science has more on this research in this story. The study was published online in the American Journal of Primatology in January.

"Dancing Data" image via Megaman Knowledgebase. ("Data" is the loveable monkey from the Megaman Legends series that saves your game).

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