Player One or Player Two? Chimps Can Tell the Difference

Illustration for article titled Player One or Player Two? Chimps Can Tell the Difference

Using the vast power of science, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan have found another good reason for a chimpanzee to play video games: to determine if they are self-aware enough to know which pixel represents their primate self.

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Self-awareness isn't just for humans anymore. Sure, it's a major feature of the human brain and helps keep us from misplacing ourselves, but as it turns out, animals are keen to this little mental trick themselves. First they identify themselves in mirrors, now they identify themselves on video game screens.

Three adult female chimpanzees were trained to play a simple trackball-controlled video game in order to determine if they possessed an aspect of self-awareness called self agency, the feeling of being in control of one's own actions. The game is actually part of a test used on schizophrenia patients, a group that often feels a sense of disconnectedness.

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All the chimpanzees had to do was control a white dot on a screen with the trackball, smacking into green dots for massive damage. At first there were problems.

"At the beginning of training, we had no idea how to train chimpanzees to use this device," said researcher Takaaki Kaneko, a comparative psychologist at Kyoto University in Japan. "Sometimes, we lay completely down on the floor to make the chimpanzees pay attention to the trackball."

Once the chimpanzees consulted Gamefaqs the test was on. While the chimps maneuvered their white dot, another white dot moved independently based on prior test results. If the chimpanzees could point to the screen and identify the dot they were in control of, they'd get a treat.

Chimps love treats (who doesn't?), so they answered correctly 99 percent of the time.

"I personally believed that chimpanzees perceive self-agency in a similar way to which we humans do, and we have experimentally proven that here," Kaneko told LiveScience.

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I honestly believe I'd play more video games if people were standing by to give me treats, but that's just me.

Illustration for article titled Player One or Player Two? Chimps Can Tell the Difference
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Amazing! Chimps Play Video Games and Grasp Who's Who [LiveScience]

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DISCUSSION

A very interesting article.

People are often surprised at the intelligence animals can have, the thing is they're actually quite capable in some regards, they just don't have a reason to actually be smart.

I know that sounds kind of strange, but animals aren't "dumber" just because they're incapable of more impressive intelligence, but rather there being no need for these higher functions. High levels of intelligence takes a lot of energy, so there has to be a damn good reason to do use it for it to be a favorable trait (by increasing fitness directly or indirectly)

For example a study examined Transitive reasoning (if i remember correctly, it's basically stuff like A>B and B>C so A>C) by comparing Ringtailed lemurs and Mongoose lemurs. Ringtailed lemurs were much better at it, this was attributed to the fact that their natural setting is a complex social group where this is necessary. However with corrective lessons the mongoose lemurs were just as good. It's not that they lacked the capacity for this kind of thinking, they just didn't need it because their natural setting was a smaller social group (usually just immediate family) so they didn't bother developing it naturally.

It's amazing what some studies show when it comes to animal intelligence and behavior. Most people wouldn't think fruit flies capable of "learning" but under right conditions they've been subjected to artificial selection that cause evolution of a "learning" ability.