The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Friday, December 07, 2007

Chimpanzee Brain vs Human Brain

It is customary for humans to think of themselves as mentally superior to all other known forms of life - but is this true? Do we truly have the best minds on Earth?

In one way, it is evident that we do: we are, after all, the dominant life-form. But perhaps all is not as it seems.

Two days ago, an article published in the US Journal Current Biology challenges some of our most basic assumptions about ourselves. Researchers from the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute, led by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa wanted to compare the memories of chimpanzees with the memories of humans.

The researchers pitted three pairs of chimpanzees versus nine University students. Note that this is not a fair match. The chosen humans were of a superior type: University students will have superior intelligence compared to the average person in the street. Thus randomly chosen chimpanzees were being compared to superior humans. This is not, one might suppose, a fair match - and you would be right, for reasons soon to be clear.

This was a multi-year study. The chimpanzees were trained to recognize the numbers 1 to 9 when written down. In the tests, they were rewarded with food (a peanut) when they got the right answer. These numbers were distributed at random about the screen and the chimps had to tap each number in the right order to get a reward. (So the chimps were essentially counting through a sequence).

The next step in the experiments was to cover the randomly distributed numbers with a white box and to ask the chimps - and humans - to again tap through the numbers in sequence, without being able to see them again. Thus, of course, the memory of the test subjects was called upon.

Shockingly, the chimpanzees did FAR better on this task than the University students did. The chimpanzees showed inherently much superior memories for the position of numbers, than smart human subjects.

There was another stage in the testing. Some of the numbers - and covers - were removed, leaving some behind. The test subjects - both chimp and human - had to again tap through them in ascending order, taking account of the fact that a number of them were missing.

Again, the chimpanzees far outperformed the smart, young human students.

So much better at this task were chimpanzees than humans, that the chimps could correctly remember the position of the numbers, once hidden, from a single glance at the array. The human subjects were unable to do this.

The researchers suggested that this demonstrated that, perhaps, humans had lost a similar ability, perhaps giving it up for the new skill of language.

I am not convinced, myself, for Koko, the gorilla, has managed to acquire human sign language (as posted elsewhere), showing that other primates can learn a language, too.

The chimpanzees beat the human students on both speed and accuracy. They even managed to do this, when interrupted in their tapping, by loud distracting noise.

So, this experiment establishes that, in terms of this mental function, anyway, that of memory, chimpanzees are superior to relatively smart, young humans.

All of this makes me wonder just why some people persist in treating our primate relatives so poorly. We may be the dominant life-form, but our primate cousins are certainly not without their gifts. They should be better looked after, all over the world. Perhaps experiments like this can inspire better efforts to care for them.

(If you would like to learn more of Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged eight years and no months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, four years and five months, and Tiarnan, twenty-two months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, the Irish, the Malays, College, University, Chemistry, Science, genetics, left-handedness, precocity, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 12:09 AM 


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