You are here: Home Publications The Chimp Challenge: Working memory in chimps and humans

The Chimp Challenge: Working memory in chimps and humans

Roberts, S. G., & Quillinan, J. (2014). The Chimp Challenge: Working memory in chimps and humans. In L. McCrohon, B. Thompson, T. Verhoef, & H. Yamauchi (Eds.), The Past, Present and Future of Language Evolution Research: Student volume of the 9th International Conference on the Evolution of Language (pp. 31-39). Tokyo: EvoLang9 Organising Committee.
Matsuzawa (2012) presented work at Evolang demonstrating the working memory abilities of chimpanzees. (Inoue & Matsuzawa, 2007) found that chimpanzees can correctly remember the location of 9 randomly arranged numerals displayed for 210ms - shorter than an average human eye saccade. Humans, however, perform poorly at this task. Matsuzawa suggests a semantic link hypothesis: while chimps have good visual, eidetic memory, humans are good at symbolic associations. The extra information in the semantic, linguistic links that humans possess increase the load on working memory and make this task difficult for them. We were interested to see if a wider search could find humans that matched the performance of the chimpanzees. We created an online version of the experiment and challenged people to play. We also attempted to run a non-semantic version of the task to see if this made the task easier. We found that, while humans can perform better than Inoue and Matsuzawa (2007) suggest, chimpanzees can perform better still. We also found no evidence to support the semantic link hypothesis.
About MPI

This is the MPI

The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics is an institute of the German Max Planck Society. Our mission is to undertake basic research into the psychological,social and biological foundations of language. The goal is to understand how our minds and brains process language, how language interacts with other aspects of mind, and how we can learn languages of quite different types.

The institute is situated on the campus of the Radboud University. We participate in the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, and have particularly close ties to that institute's Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging. We also participate in the Centre for Language Studies. A joint graduate school, the IMPRS in Language Sciences, links the Donders Institute, the CLS and the MPI.


Street address
Wundtlaan 1
6525 XD Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Mailing address
P.O. Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands

Phone:   +31-24-3521911
Fax:        +31-24-3521213

Public Outreach Officer
Charlotte Horn