Chimps beat humans in strategic computer game test

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(NaturalNews) There is a program on the air called, "Are you smarter than a fifth grader?" Maybe there should be a new show entitled, "Are you smarter than a chimp?"

According to the LA Times, researchers believe that different outcomes could be due to the byproduct of a cognitive trade-off in the course of evolution. They say that humans left the trees and developed language, semantic thought and cooperation, while distant cousins kept on doing what made them successful in the first place - competing, manipulating and deceiving.

If you're confused, follow the chimps.

Researchers developed what is called the Inspection Game, a kind of abstraction of a two-person game of hide-and-seek. To play, each contestant faces a computer screen the other cannot see and must choose between two blue squares, one on the left or one on the right. Player one is then rewarded for matching player 2; player 2 is rewarded for not matching player 1.

'Keeping track of their opponents' previous choices'

As the Times reports:

Laboratory chimps in Kyoto, Japan, outperformed 16 Japanese university students, and did the same against 12 men playing the game with bottle caps in Bossou, Guinea. Humans in Africa were just as far off from the equilibrium point as in Asia, the study found.

Even when researchers switched matchers and mismatchers and tinkered with the rewards (matches on one side of the screen or bottle cap earned more), the results were consistent: chimps play more like John Forbes Nash Jr. predicted.

It isn't that Nash - who was played by actor Russell Crowe in the 2001 film, "A Beautiful Mind" - was wrong about humans and correct when it came to chimps. Rather, in certain strategic games the older species is just quicker and maybe even more "economical" in its calculations.

"It seems like they're keeping better track of their opponents' previous choices," said Colin Camerer, a Caltech behavioral economist whose work on the neuroscience behind economic decision-making won him a MacArthur grant last year. "You can see, compared to the human subjects, they're just more responsive. They're keeping better 'minds' on what their opponents are doing."

The Nash-inspired equilibrium is one such concept that is likely much more recognized and described mathematically. Camerer says in this type of game, "it's the point at which no one is leaving a pattern that leaves themselves vulnerable to exploitation. So there's more competitive improvement that they can get."

Do humans 'overthink' things?

The issue of how humans' primate cousins build on their memory of behavioral patterns and whether they can conceptualize their counterparts' minds is one that has been greatly debated - but it won't be resolved by this Japanese study. Still, the results have been consistent with previous work that shows an advantage demonstrated by chimps in a number of other competitively strategic tasks, according to the Caltech-Kyoto University research team.

More from the Times:

Tetsuro Matsuzawa, a primatologist at Kyoto University and a study coauthor, has shown previously that chimps are faster and more accurate than humans at tasks involving working memory. He suggests such expertise might have been reinforced by natural selection during chimpanzee evolution, while time diluted the skill among humans as they acquired more abstract cognition involved in language - a feature that also made humans more cooperative.

"One theory is that the humans are overthinking it, and the chimps have a simpler model," Camerer offered.

In a statement to the Huffington Post, study co-author Rahul Bhui, a graduate student in the department of computational and neural systems at Caltech, said, "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."

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