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Chimps Outperform Humans in Memory Tests

New research shows that chimpanzees have memory powers that are far beyond those of humans. Researchers at Kyoto University in Japan tested 12 students and three chimps who had been taught the numbers one through nine. A computer screen displayed nine numbers, which were obscured with white squares after the participant touched the first number. The challenge was to touch all the squares in ascending order. The chimps completed this task faster than humans with the same accuracy.

chimpThe best-performing chimp, Ayumu, was given a second test. This time only five numbers were used, but they flashed on the screen for just seven-tenths, four-tenths, and two-tenths of a second. At the fastest speed, Ayumu scored around 80 percent, while the humans’ scores plummeted to about 40 percent. 

Ayumu then confronted a truly formidable opponent: British memory champion Ben Pridmore. Pridmore can memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards in 30 seconds. But he wasn’t able to trump Ayumu in the fastest version of the memory test. In front of a TV audience, Ayumu beat Pridmore’s score 90 percent to 33 percent.

This latest study adds to a growing body of research documenting animals’ cognitive skills. Chimpanzees perform vastly better than humans on tests of spatial memory, and their facial recognition abilities often exceed our own. Songbirds have shown the ability to learn basic grammar, and the alarm calls of prairie dogs convey specific information about an approaching predator, including, in the case of a human, whether or not he is carrying a gun.

A growing number of animal behavior experts, including PCRM ethologist Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., call attention to such examples of sophisticated behavior to underscore that animals deserve our respect and protection.

ACTION ALERT: Ask the FDA to Stop Animal Testing

Thousands of animals are experimented on every day to test drugs that will never help a sick human being. In some cases, animal tests suggest that a new drug is dangerous when in fact it would be quite safe for humans; yet, the drug is abandoned. In other cases, drugs appear safe in animal tests when in fact they are dangerous to humans.

The push for nonanimal testing methods comes from scientists concerned about both the humane aspects of animal testing and the need for better testing methods. Unfortunately, the fact that accurate nonanimal test methods have been developed does not mean they will be used. The pharmaceutical industry is often shy about using methods that break from tradition. 

In a petition filed last year with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, PCRM and an international coalition of scientists and animal-protection organizations asked the agency to mandate the use of validated nonanimal testing methods, when those alternatives exist, to create safer drugs for American consumers.

Now the FDA needs to hear from you. Please write to the FDA commissioner and politely urge the organization to mandate the use of validated alternatives to animal tests:

Andrew C. von Eschenbach, M.D., Commissioner
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857


Good Medicine: Replacing Animals in Medical Education

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