Chimpanzee vs. Human Memory

Meghan Joost, Staff writer


Chimps and Humans are more alike than some may think. However, chimpanzees are proving that they actually have better short term memories than humans.  A study from   Current Biology published in 2007 pertaining to another 2004 study where chimpanzees had their short term memories tested presents an example of chimp intelligence. One of the test subjects was a chimpanzee by the name of Ayumu.  Researchers gave Ayumu a random sequence of numbers between one and nine on a screen. Once the sequence was completed, the numbers were covered up and Ayumu had to repeat the sequence of numbers.  Ayumu did very well in this memory task, but researchers wanted to see what would happen when chimpanzees competed against humans.

According to the Current Biology Article, “We developed a new test called the ‘limited hold memory task’ as a novel way of comparing the working memory of chimpanzee and human subjects. In this task, after the touch to the initial white circle, the numerals appeared only for a certain limited duration, and were then automatically replaced by white squares.” Ayumu not only out-competed his older chimpanzee counterparts, but also his human competition. This chimpanzee has proven its short term memory to be better than any human’s short term memory.

Forgetting the location of house keys, where the car is parked, and what was supposed to be picked up at the grocery store are examples of common things humans tend to forget.

“I do not have trouble remembering things that are important to me like names, birthdays or  items on a study guide,”  Stated Tolitu Aba-Omer, a Northeastern Illinois University Senior.  Tolitu also talked about what she has trouble remembering, “Things that are not important to me.  Like during lectures, I do not try to memorize everything, but try to understand the important concepts.”

Short term memory can be thought of as a scratch piece of paper to  jot things down on.  Only a few words can fit on that piece of paper and only have to be committed to memory for a short time.  The trouble begins when one wants to commit something to their long term memory. “I sit there during a test or quiz sometimes and wonder why I can not remember something I know I studied,” Said Tolitu.  Long term memory is the reason why memories from a vacation can be recalled after many years have passed.  The question remains of how to commit short term memories to long term memories.  It takes a conscious effort to move short term memories to long term memories. Repetition is a common strategy humans use to remember things for the future.  “I associate letters and numbers of a formula to things I know, and then I group them,” Tolitu stated.  Finding commonalities or associations to different things is also another way humans produce long term memories.

Successful memorization of material is a struggle for many students.  Northeastern Illinois University offers many services to help with study habits for a more successful experience at Northeastern.