Chimpanzees are better than humans at game theory and tactics, according to new research.
Researchers for the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute in Japan and at CalTech carried out a study, measuring the ability of chimps to develop complex ideas.
The investigation involved games which called for determining the best strategy when dealing with a competitive contest. This game was a virtual version of hide-and-seek, played by chimps. The ultimate object of the game was to predict the next move made by another player. Opponents were faced back-to-back, so there could be no communication between the subjects. Winning chimps were given snacks as a reward.
Local villagers and undergraduate students also participated in the tests. Human victors were provided with financial bonuses as incentives. They were not allowed to talk during the Inspection Game.
Given a choice of two blocks, each player had to guess which of the two their opponent would choose. This simple game uses many of the same skills found both in the business world and the wild. Any yes-no question involving risk and reward has parallels to this contest.
"The nice thing about the game theory used in this study is that it allows you to boil down all of these situations to their strategic essence," Rahul Bhui of CalTech, co-author of the study, said.
Mathematician John Forbes Nash developed a theory called the Nash Equation. This idea states that no matter how well someone plays this type of game, there is a limit of how well they can perform. Chimpanzees in the experiment tested close to this theoretical best-possible score.
"The chimpanzee choices are also closer to the equilibrium prediction, and more responsive to past history and payoff changes, than two samples of human choices," researchers wrote in an article announcing their study.
Previous research indicated our closest relatives among apes have superior short-term memory skills when compared to humans.
Researchers believe these short-term memory skills, combined with quick visual acuity and pattern recognition, could be responsible for this miraculous performance. Apes are also far more competitive than humans, who tend to act in a more cooperative manner. This tendency could have also aided chimpanzees in the experiment. Chimpanzees are also significantly stronger than humans.
A total of 16 humans and six chimpanzees were tested in the experiment, and each contestant faced opponents of their own species.
Investigation of the game theory skills of chimpanzees and how they compare to humans was detailed in the journal Nature.