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The QHImp Qhallenge: Working memory in humans and Chimpanzees

Do you have a better memory than a chimp?  Tetsuro Matsuzawa demonstrated the amazing working memory abilities of Chimpanzees, but maybe humans can be just as good, with enough practice.  Justin Quillinan and I present the Quick-Hold Improvement Challenge (or QHImp Qhallenge).  Play our game and find out if you can beat a chimpanzee.

Play the game here.

You can see the results update live here.  Results so far are tantalizing: Replicated Typo’s very own James Winters has already reached the Ayumu benqhmark (9 numbers viewed for only 209 milliseconds)!

skip to Game instructions

Background

Tetsuro Matsuzawa presented his work on chimpanzees in a plenary talk at Evolang.  Matsuzawa covered several very interesting experiments and findings, including an experiment into the working memory of chimpanzees.  Ayumu is a chimpanzee who was trained to recognise Arabic numerals on a touch-screen and press them in sequence.  The most impressive aspect was that Ayumu could complete the task even when the numbers were only displayed for 210 milliseconds before being masked (the ‘eidetic memory task’ or ‘limited-hold’ memory task, Inoue & Matsuzawa, 2007):

You can see more videos of this at the Friends and Ai website.

Humans can complete the task at 650 and 430 milliseconds, but perform well below Ayumu at 210 milliseconds.   Matsuzawa suggested that our semantic links with the numerals may be an extra burden on our working memories.  Ayumu’s mother, Ai, who was language-trained could not do the task:

Matsuzawa speculated that this kind of visual ability is adaptive for chimpanzees, who regularly fight with other groups and need to keep track of where many attackers are at once, while ranking them by threat level.

Alan Silberberg and David Kearns wondered whether the difference between humans and chimps came down to the amount of training, so they trained themselves in an attempt to reach the performance of Ayumu (Silberberg & Kearns, 2009).  They played the game for 10 minutes up to ten times a day (perhaps generativist linguists do the same for training themselves to do grammaticality judgments?).  After 2,500 trials, they did reach Ayumu’s performance level, but only for 5 numbers (as in the original Inoue & Matsuzawa paper).  Ayumu can do 9 numbers [EDIT: The Inoue & Matsuzawa paper only goes up to 5 numerals], seemingly effortlessly.

However, after visiting a video game arcade in Osaka, me and Justin Quillinan wondered if game-playing teenagers might be better at this task:

So on the plane back from the conference we built our own version of the game.  You can see how difficult the task is for yourself, or train yourself to beat Ayumu!  Why not pass it on to your nerdy teenage cousins?

Go play the game here.

You can see the results update live here.

We’ll be analysing the results as they come in, and there’s a leader board which displays the fastest players.

Game Instructions:

Press Go! to start the round.  Numbers will appear on the screen. After a brief pause, they will be replaced by blank buttons. Press the buttons in the correct order. The game will get harder as you go!

The game has three modes:

  • Arcade mode:  Stars easy and decreases the latency while increasing the number of numbers to remember
  • Challenge mode:  Starts with 9 numbers and decreases the latency.
  • Chimp mode:  See what Ayumu is capable of:  9 numbers with 210 milliseconds latency.[EDIT: Ayumu is only described as doing 5 numerals]

The game stores some information for the analysis on the server: The name you type in, a one-way encrypted version of your IP address, the type of device you’re using and your score.  We can’t guarantee that this information is secure, but it should be anonymous.

References

Silberberg, A., & Kearns, D. (2008). Memory for the order of briefly presented numerals in humans as a function of practice Animal Cognition, 12 (2), 405-407 DOI: 10.1007/s10071-008-0206-8

Inoue, S., & Matsuzawa, T. (2007). Working memory of numerals in chimpanzees Current Biology, 17 (23) DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2007.10.027

  • http://www.replicatedtypo.com/authors/james-winters/ Wintz

    Someone clearly has too much time on their hands… 166 plays already. Player 15 I take my hat off to your persistence.

  • http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/ BBenzon

    What’s up with all the hits the blog’s been getting today? Over 1800 so far. Most to the home page at over 1300. This page is only second, at less than 200.

  • http://www.replicatedtypo.com/authors/james-winters/ Wintz

    I wish it was because of a sudden upsurge of interest in cultural evolution, but alas it’s because of an article I wrote years ago on an extinct snake called Titanoboa. Today, a film was announced about the giant snake, which has caused all the activity on this blog. On the old Replicated Typo blog there has been 18,824 hits just for today!

  • kara

    I would have never thought that a chimp has better working memory than a human. that’s crazy!

  • http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~s0451342/ Sean

    Kara: Well, maybe they don’t! We’ll release some results tomorrow, but they’re looking pretty interesting so far.

  • Alicia Johnson

    It would not let me play :(! But i think this is a very accurate game because it helps test humans memories and use different ways to remember the numbers order and location. For example with alot of numbers they might use grouping to remember, or they might remember the first numbers and the last numbers. Great game!!

  • http://new-savanna.blogspot.com/ BBenzon

    Titanoboa, isn’t that a rare language with obligatory three levels of recursion or more in each sentence, which puts a strain on working memory.

  • Alicia Johnson

    I could not play the game :(! but seems like a great game to test humans memories and skills to recall information. You can tell if they recall the first few numbers and last few numbers, or if they group the numbers together, and so on. Great Game for memory!

  • http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~s0451342/ Sean

    Some results are out.

  • http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~s0451342/ Sean

    @Alicia Hmm, what happened? Could you see the ‘Arcade Mode’ button? What browser are you using, and what operating system?

  • Kevin

    WAH, how mental. clearly this should be made into a facebook app, in order to maximize data harvest!

  • Greg Hodes

    Nothing happens!

    gph

  • http://inspiringscience.wordpress.com sedeer

    That game was surprisingly challenging! I don’t think out helped (in fact, probably the opposite), but I found myself trying to use geometric information as an aid by constructing shapes and sub-shapes to remember. I wonder if anyone else did something similar and what other memory strategies people used.

    Interesting article; thanks for the write-up. Do you know if there are any plans to test the idea that this has to do with keeping track of attackers – maybe testing for differences between males & females, for example? I’m also curious about how Ayumu’s performance changed over time; was there anything about that in the article?

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  • Marcel

    In chimp mode it now shows 5 numbers, just as in the video of Ayumu. However, in the video, although 5 numbers are shown, they are picked from the range 1-9, whereas in your game they are just 1-5. Clearly the latter is easier: if you saw only four numbers, you know which the 5th one was. And if you saw only three, you still have a 50% chance of getting it right.

  • http://www.lel.ed.ac.uk/~s0451342/ Sean

    @Marcel: You’re right, we did this on purpose to make the game easier in order to see if humans really do have a problem with processing symbols at a low latency (it also made some analyses easier!). What we found suggested that humans can identify numbers, but not remember their location. We were also more interested in comparing different kinds of stimuli (see our next post), and wanted unfamiliar stimuli to be easy to learn. It might be interesting to see the results for the original setup, although we might need a lab-based experiment to ensure that people got enough training.

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