ORANGUTANS HOOK UP TOOL-BASED SO­LU­TIONS QUICKER THAN HU­MAN KIDS

Focus-Science and Technology - - DISCOVERIES -

Maybe we should want to be like them! Orangutans may be more in­no­va­tive than hu­man chil­dren, a new study at Ger­many’s Leipzig Zoo has found. An in­ter­na­tional team of bi­ol­o­gists and psy­chol­o­gists re­search­ing tool-mak­ing in orangutans have ev­i­dence that the great apes can solve a prob­lem faster than chil­dren younger than eight. The great apes aren’t just faster at com­ing up with the so­lu­tion, though – they’re also able to do it in­de­pen­dently.

“We con­fronted the orangutans with a ver­ti­cal tube con­tain­ing a re­ward bas­ket with a han­dle and a straight piece of wire. A sec­ond task in­volved a hor­i­zon­tal tube con­tain­ing a re­ward at its cen­tre and a piece of wire bent at 90°,” said cog­ni­tive bi­ol­o­gist Is­abelle Laumer, who led the study. “Re­triev­ing the re­ward from the ver­ti­cal tube re­quired the orangutans to bend a hook into the wire to fish the bas­ket out. The hor­i­zon­tal tube in the sec­ond task re­quired them to straighten the bent piece of wire and push the food out of the tube.”

Sev­eral orangutans mas­tered both prob­lems, with two do­ing so in a mat­ter of min­utes. The hu­man chil­dren, how­ever, weren’t so suc­cess­ful. Three- to five-yearold chil­dren rarely suc­ceed in the tasks, and less than half of seven-year-olds tested were able to fig­ure them out. It was only the eight-year-olds that were con­sis­tently able to cre­ate the re­quired tools.

It’s not all bad news for the hu­man race, though. Chil­dren in all tested age groups suc­ceeded when shown how to make and use the nec­es­sary tools, which sug­gests they can com­pre­hend what tools are re­quired and how to make and use them, but that they face some sort of cog­ni­tive ob­sta­cle in in­no­vat­ing them.

“Com­plex prob­lem solv­ing has been as­so­ci­ated with cer­tain ar­eas of the me­dial pre­frontal cor­tex, which ma­ture later in hu­man chil­dren,” said Laumer. “This, and chil­dren’s strong re­liance on so­cial learn­ing, might ex­plain their suc­cess at a later age.”

Orangutans: smarter than seven-year-old chil­dren

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