Ape versus machine: Do primates enjoy computer games?


A chimp genius can complete a computer memory test in less time than it takes the average person to blink – and much faster than any human rival. But do the world’s cleverest animals enjoy these cognitive tasks?

Ayumu, who was born and raised in Japan’s Kyoto University, can remember the location and order of a set of numbers in record time. Sixty milliseconds to be precise.

Of course, it is not “natural” behaviour for a chimp to interact with a computer screen, but scientists suggest this type of task could be good for captive apes.

“Unfortunately, captive great apes often exhibit behavioural signs of boredom, frustration and stress,” says Fay Clark from the Royal Veterinary College’s Centre for Animal Welfare.

Working with the Zoological Society of London, Ms Clark has recently published a review of research investigating whether challenges that get captive apes thinking can enhance their well-being.

“If an ape does not receive enough cognitive challenge in life, this can lead to abnormal behaviours or a lack of interest in the environment,” she tells BBC Nature.

“The key is for scientists to develop challenges which are relevant, motivating, and ultimately solvable if they are going to be used as enrichment.”

Written By: Ella Davies & Anna-Louise Taylor
continue to source article at bbc.co.uk


  1. I, for one, welcome our new primate overlords!

    From that photo, it looks as if there’s a cross behind him/her. Odd juxtaposition :/

  2. i live with a couple of primates and can confirm they get no enjoyment whatsoever. they become listless, uncooperative and just slump on my sofa blinking very occasionally despite appearing to develop some skill in whatever they’re playing, but this is to the detriment of their more important cognative skills such as keeping time and knowing how to open cupboards.

    The long term effects can lead to individuals becoming somewhat aggressive and, at times, downright rude even when assistance in pointing out it’s feeding time is given.

  3. So, was this chimp born a genius (i.e., a wunderschimpanse), or, like the rest of us, did it have to work very hard to achieve a superior level of mastery?

  4. In reply to #2 by bluebird:

    I, for one, welcome our new primate overlords!From that photo, it looks as if there’s a cross behind him/her. Odd juxtaposition :/

    You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
    Dr Zaius, I love you!

  5. One of my primate offspring enjoyed computer games from around the age of five, and has now evolved into a software developer writing programmes which run a big chunk of the business world.

  6. Ken Ham without make up?
    In reply to #2 by bluebird:

    I, for one, welcome our new primate overlords!

    From that photo, it looks as if there’s a cross behind him/her. Odd juxtaposition :/

  7. I just read of a 7 year old girl from Philly who coded her own video game. I think it has been heralded as the youngest person to accomplish this feat!! How exciting!

  8. I love studies like these. Not only because I love animals and it is fascinating, but because it really reveals just how little people who don’t believe in evolution really know. I also often notice that believers have this strange belief that humans are more intelligent and somehow more superior in every way than all other animals on the planet. I guess that would be yet another narrow-minded perspective pulled from the Bible and preached from pulpits amass.

  9. I guess that would be yet another narrow-minded perspective pulled from the Bible and preached from pulpits amass.

    Not just pulled and preached but most easily sold. There’s a huge market for these ideas because so many humans want confirmation that it’s all about us (them).

    It’s a vicious circle. The most palatable message for so many humans is the message that puts them at the centre of the universe. It’s delusional and I woud suggest ultimately immoral and a matter of giving the people what they want.

    Don’t make them feel and don’t make them think. Make them comfortable and they’ll buy what you’re selling.

  10. Will a researcher ask Notch and Mojang to write Simeancraft?
    I wonder how readily they’ll play for the stimulation itself rather than a concrete reward.

    BTW, the mention of a “chimp genius” is talking about the fact that chimps have certain cognitive abilities that get better scores on certain tests than humans do. I’ve only heard about one of them, the ability to recall where numbers were on a screen, but it wouldn’t be surprising if there are more.

  11. It’s worth pointing out that there are three separate skills on display in this video, one of which seems to have remarkable implications for chimp intelligence and the other two of which would be considered almost miraculous if a human could reproduce them. To begin with the latter, Ayumu shows:

    1) The ability to capture a mental snapshot of a visual image in an extraordinarily brief interval: the screen full of numbers is flashed up for a fraction of a second before it goes blank.

    2) The ability to recall details of that image afterwards, meaning the image is being held in the memory and contemplated in a photographic way so that its individual components can be individually recalled and analysed.

    3) Perhaps most remarkably, but causing little comment in the news story, is this striking implication: Ayumu understands what the numbers mean. She understands that these 9 symbols represent a sequence — a sequence she is able to reproduce no matter what order the symbols are displayed in, or whether some are missing from the sequence. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that this means she understands that these are numbers representing quantities — and if she is able to manipulate those numbers at such extraordinary speed, what other arithmetic, or perhaps mathematical, operations might she be able to understand?

  12. The ability to calculate a flight path at speed through the branches of trees, involves some very rapid and accurate thinking, with serious penalties for errors.

  13. In reply to #14 by Jonathan Dore:

    Well, I’m certainly impressed at the evidence of an eidetic memory in chimpanzees, and with their ability to understand sequences of symbols, but the latter is not the same as being able to perform mathematics. For that, you’d need to set a challenge which requires addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division to solve; for instance, working out how many pieces of fruit are left when six are hidden and then three removed and then two removed, with the chimp watching, and then test again but take all six and see if the chimpanzee behaves the same way.

    Not that there couldn’t be good evolutionary reasons for a social species having the concept of number. They’d need to assess their strength against enemies, how many fellow apes are friends or not, how to keep track of favours, kin, and food distribution, and so on. But it must necessarily be done in their heads, as they don’t communicate the mathematics among themselves, so either we’d have to encourage it through their behaviour or we’d have to find the necessary structures in their brains.

  14. I see there are other experiments on mental ability! These will give a complete new meaning to “group-think”, “divine revelation”, or mind control!

    One rat brain ‘talks’ to another using electronic link –


    Scientists have connected the brains of lab rats, allowing one to communicate directly to another via cables.

    The wired brain implants allowed sensory and motor signals to be sent from one rat to another, creating the first ever brain-to-brain interface.

    The scientists then tested whether the rat receiving the signal could correctly interpret the information.

    As the ultimate test of their system, the team even linked the brains of rats that were thousands of miles apart

    Details of the work are outlined in the journal Scientific Reports.

    In a study published earlier this month, the researchers implanted electrodes in the part of the rat’s brain that processes tactile information and attached these to infrared sensors – effectively allowing the rat to “touch” infrared light.

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