While playing a game, monkeys switched strategies each round, while humans stuck to a set of inefficient rules.
When it comes to winning games and solving puzzles, sometimes monkeys play smarter than humans.
Monkeys may show off their physical flexibility as they clamber over tangled tree branches, but the animals also display impressive “cognitive flexibility,” or the ability to quickly change how they think about, and work to solve, a problem. Whereas monkeys can think on their feet, humans often become set in their ways and cling to inefficient strategies for problem solving, according to new research.
“We are a unique species and have various ways in which we are exceptionally different from every other creature on the planet. But we’re also sometimes really dumb,” study co-author Julia Watzek, a graduate student in psychology at Georgia State University, said in a statement. For the research, published Sept. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports, Watzek and her colleagues pitted capuchin and rhesus macaque monkeys against undergraduate students in a game of wits — in other words, a simple computer game.
In the game, four squares appeared on screen during each trial: one striped, one spotted and two blank. In training sessions, players learned that clicking the striped square and then the spotted square would cause a blue triangle to pop up in place of one of the blank squares. Clicking the blue triangle produced a reward — in this case, an auditory whoop for humans to indicate that they had solved the puzzle, and a banana pellet for monkeys.
“They kind of like playing computer games and getting banana pellets,” Watzek told Live Science. The primates voluntarily enter the testing compartment during the study and interact with the computer using a modified video game controller.