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Surprising Science

Are Chimpanzees Better Strategists than Humans?

According to a new study, chimpanzees are at least as good at (if not better) than humans at adjusting strategy choices during competition.

What’s the Latest?

Scientists studying the capacity for strategic thinking among non-human species have found chimpanzees comparable (if not superior) to their human cousins in the realm of decision-making. Faced with a set of abstract competitive situations, the tested chimpanzees exhibited a proficiency for altering their decisions in reaction to failure that bested that of humans tasked with the same goals. Researchers hypothesize that chimpanzees may “retain or practice a specialized capacity to adjust strategy choice during competition to perform at least as well as, or better than, humans have.”

What’s the Big Idea?

The study, held at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute, consisted of chimpanzees playing a so-called matcher-mismatcher game (video here). Teams of humans, forbidden from speaking, also played the game. In order to encourage playing the game, chimps were rewarded with apples. The humans were rewarded with money (sounds like the chimps got the raw deal). The basic results: the chimps clobbered the humans and performed up to the Nash equilibrium. Chimpanzees are widely regarded to possess superior short-term memories, excellent pattern-recognition skills, and exhibit more heightened competitive tendencies than their human counterparts.

Before anyone gets any crazy ideas and decides to hire a chimp to run a Navy or something, do note that the researchers identify that humans still reign supreme in “games requiring coordination and cooperation, where language is particularly useful.”

Take that, chimps.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection/Shutterstock


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