INUYAMA, Japan – A decades-long study in Japan on chimpanzees has challenged established views about primate intelligence, providing evidence that their cognitive abilities are more than just monkey business.
For the center’s 50th anniversary, researchers invited visitors to see the impressive skills demonstrated by the chimps housed and studied in an outdoor compound at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University.
The center, modeled after a west African rainforest – the chimpanzees’ natural habitat – is also equipped with a state of the art laboratory which helps researchers carry out cognitive exercises and experiments on the apes.
Exhibiting remarkable short-term memory skills, two chimps in particular, Ai and her son Ayumu, have comprehensively debunked previously-held theories that primates are inferior to humans at mastering relatively complex cognitive and memorization tasks.
Having studied Ai since her birth in 1977, and later her son Ayumu, who was born in 2000, researchers have been able to examine the evolution of human intelligence and behavior compared to that of chimpanzees, our closest primate relatives.
Headed by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa of the Kyoto University Institute for Advanced Study (Comparative Cognitive Science), the study of Ai, Ayumu and 12 other chimpanzees living in an enclosure in Inuyama has over the course of 40 years demonstrated their intelligence, with Ai and Ayumu even showing superior abilities to humans when it comes to short-term memory.
Matsuzawa hopes that the study of our primate cousins and their cognitive abilities can shed more light on human intelligence, memory and cognitive development.
Scientists at the institute also study how the chimps communicate and behave with each other, specifically manual pointing and facial expressions, hoping to glean evolutionary clues about the way early humans communicated and how they might have evolved into increasingly intelligent beings.