Chimps Are Smarter Than Humans In One Very Important Area, Study Finds

Think you could do better than a chimp?

Repeat this sequence of numbers out loud: 209842389

If you can remember it by the end of this article without looking back, then your working memory is good — but is it better than a chimpanzee's? 

The scientists at Japan's Primate Research Institute (PRI) decided to find out by testing Ayumu the chimp's memory against that of a human's. 

According to a 2013 BBC Earth video of the study, working memory is defined as "the brain's ability to temporarily store and use information." 

Here's how the test works: The numbers one to nine appear randomly on a touch screen. The participant then look at the numbers for as long as needed to memorize their placement.


As soon as one of the numbers is touched, the others are blocked out, and the participant must recall the order.

The DNA of chimps (as well as bonobos) is 99 percent similar to humans' — making these animals our "nearest living relatives," according to Scientific American. Still, that missing one percent makes for vast differences in physiology and cognition. 

And while humans win cognitive ability tests in most areas, when it comes to working memory, chimps blow us out of the water, as proven by this simple number test.

First Chris, the director of the program, college graduate and crossword addict, tries his hand at memorizing the sequence on screen. He stares at the numbers, and when they disappear, tries recalling their original placement, two to nine, in ascending order. He doesn't do as well as he might have hoped... 

"In 30 attempts, Chris only once reached nine without making a mistake," says the narrator.

"It takes me ages to remember where there all placed... it's really very, very difficult," Chris says, exasperated. "As soon as they're blanked over, it's like my mind's been blanked over as well." 

 Ayumu the chimp doesn't have nearly as much trouble. 

When Ayumu tries the test, he remembers the correct order almost 90 percent of the time.

But if you thought Chris is just particularly bad at this memory game, think again. When Ayumu was put against human participants who had actually practiced the game several times in advance, Ayumu still always won. 

Other chimps were tested as well, and on average, it was found their working memory was better than their human competitors.

There you have it, the chimps win. So if you ever need help with your short-term memory, call a chimp. 

Watch the video of the study play out below:

Oh, by the way. Do you remember those numbers at the beginning of the article? Don't worry, neither do we. 

Like this story? Click the button below to share! 

More From A Plus


Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.