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Human vs Animal Brains:
May 9, 2006 1:10 AM   Subscribe

What experiments have been carried out where animals perform better than us at particular cognitive tasks?

I remember reading / seeing an experiment performed with chimps that seemed to show that they could hold a higher number of objects in their mind at any one time than humans can.

I remember seeing them tapping on numbered buttons when objects were flashed in front of them. Humans perfomed less well on the same task at higher speeds and numbers.

Know this experiment?

How about ANY OTHER similar resulting experiments?

Thanks a lot
posted by 0bvious to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Well, 0bvious, dogs can be trained to sniff out drugs, certain cancers, and even (pirated) DVDs.
And don't forget math whiz Clever Hans.
posted by rob511 at 1:26 AM on May 9, 2006


Is that cognitive, though? Does differentiating odors rely on sensory perception more or less than brain torque? A significant number of animals have different abilities than of which we are capable (night vision, odor detection, etc) but can any animals out-think us, per se, I suspect is the question.
posted by vanoakenfold at 1:34 AM on May 9, 2006


Yes. I am not talking about radar (bats) and the like. I mean cognition beyond the senses. As the extended example I give above suggests chimps can hold a larger amount of objects in short term perception than we can.

Maybe I could rephrase the question: What SURPRISING experiments involving animals have shown that human cognition isn't as 'highly evolved' as we thought it was?
posted by 0bvious at 1:53 AM on May 9, 2006


The second experiment goes like this. Unfortunately I can't recall the reference.

Humans vs. rats have to guess whether the red light or the green light will light next by pushing a red or green button. If they guess correctly, they are rewarded.

The lights flash in random order, with the green light lighting 80% of the time, and the red light lighting 20% of the time.

Results: Humans try to guess the pattern. Since there is no pattern, they end up pressing the green button about 80% of the time and the red button 20% of the time. So on average they guess right 80% of 80% plus 20% of 20% of the time (that is 64% + 4% = 68% of the time).

Rats, on the other hand, try both buttons for a while, then just press the green button all the time probably because they realise that green is more likely to work. So they get it right 100% of 80% plus 0% of 20% of the time (that is 80% + 0% = 80% of the time). Rats do better than humans.

After the experiment, the researchers told the human subjects that there was no pattern, that the lights were random. Several subjects said "actually, I found the pattern".

I was told this, and about lots chimp experiments, by Peter Gardenfors. His (quite good) book is titled "How Homo became Sapiens".
posted by cogat at 1:54 AM on May 9, 2006


Jays are incredibly efficient at recalling the location of nuts cached over the winter, far outstretching human capacities. One such paper:
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/cog/bb/2000/00000013/00000002/bb048"

There's also a famous experiment (reference lost to me right now) in which pigeons were better than humans at spotting the presence of trees in a set of photos.
posted by roofus at 2:11 AM on May 9, 2006


are you talking about this study?

via google scholar query: cognitive "channel capacity" primates

What SURPRISING experiments involving animals have shown that human cognition isn't as 'highly evolved' as we thought it was?

I don't think it's necessarily surprising that there are critters that do better at cognitive tasks than us, even if we consider ourselves to be the most highly evolved species on the planet. Sure it's a cognitive difference instead of a physical one, but really what about that cognitiveness makes it any different from being surprised that grizzly bears are stronger than us, or cheetahs faster, etc.?
posted by juv3nal at 2:16 AM on May 9, 2006


"Highly evolved" is a bit of a misnomer. All current life has been evolving for equally long. There have also been fewer generations of humans than, say, flies.
posted by cogat at 2:44 AM on May 9, 2006


I would read Temple Grandin's (amazing) book Animals in Translation. It has a lot of examples of exactly this kind of animal intelligenece: e.g., squirrels remembering the location of 10,000 buried nuts over the course of the winter, etc.
posted by josh at 4:45 AM on May 9, 2006


Jays are incredibly efficient at recalling the location of nuts cached over the winter, far outstretching human capacities.

Not at our house! I'm always finding peanuts "buried" in the lawn. Acorns sprout from every flower and vegetable bed on the property. I think the problem is that the dam jays bury TOO MANY NUTS. Ah, why am I complaining? They're an endless source of amusement...
posted by jdroth at 7:48 AM on May 9, 2006


Bees communicate the location of flowers by doing a little dance for other bees. Actually arriving at the target location in three dimensions based on such directions seems remarkable.

People have a hard enough time finding a given location even with detailed directions and a limited number of possible ways to get there (i.e., streets). Imagine if our directions were more like "fly for a while, then turn 30 degrees downward and 10 degrees to the north..." I know I'd never find my way!
posted by CaptApollo at 8:10 AM on May 9, 2006


Humans are about dead last in terms of the speed of our cognitive development.
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:24 AM on May 9, 2006


are you talking about this study?

Link doesn't seem to show much... Scholarly login necessary
posted by 0bvious at 8:24 AM on May 9, 2006


Link doesn't seem to show much... Scholarly login necessary

time sensistive expiry maybe? try one of these.
posted by juv3nal at 2:27 PM on May 9, 2006


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