Monkeys are intelligent

Intelligent great apes

First think, then act?

Not only in the laboratory, but also in the wild, great apes prove their intelligence anew every day. For example, they are one of the few animal species that are able to use tools. What is amazing is that great apes are obviously thinking about problems.

It has often been observed that chimpanzees can crack a nut with a stone. Although it sometimes takes years to understand the equation "nut plus stone equals food", this action requires the conscious linking of two objects. Apart from the great apes, only individual bird species, such as crows, can understand similar relationships.

Even so, researchers disagree on the extent to which the great apes really understand what they are doing. Scientists from all over the world are discussing whether the animals are able to knowingly adopt techniques they have learned - for example the use of tools - from their conspecifics.

It is undisputed that great apes imitate the behavior of others. But whether they also understand the causal connection of the action, for example the goal of cracking a nut, or just copy the technology for social reasons, has not yet been clarified.

The key question in this context is: Can great apes really understand, so is there any insight? Or are they only proficient in so-called association learning?

In doing so, the animal associates a certain action with a result (often a reward) and repeats the action to achieve the same result. Some researchers believe that the great apes still fail to understand why the result occurs.

Master of "Association"

With or without understanding - great apes are masters of association. They learn to combine cause and effect better than almost any other animal - this was shown by a series of research at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig: Chimpanzees and orangutans competed against two-year-old children in various tests.

One task: human and animal test subjects were asked to "fish" a reward through a grid - with the help of a tool and without instructions. The astonishing result was: 74 percent of the chimpanzees and 38 percent of the orangutans solved the riddle. Of the children, only 23 percent made it.

Associative thinking goes so far with great apes that they can plan for the future. In a similar test, the Leipzig researchers provided the great apes with a tool that they could use to get a bottle of juice - initially not a major challenge for the animals.

Then the great apes were led into a room in which various tools were lying, including what they already knew. This time, however, there was no juice. In the next room, however, there was only the juice. In the next experiment, almost all of the animals had understood the connection and took the tool with them into the room where the juice was.

However, the results of tests in which the great apes had to interpret gestures look completely different. The scientists hid an object under a hat and then pointed to it with their fingers. Only about two thirds of the animals could interpret the clue. In the case of small children, however, it was over 90 percent.

The smartest of all monkeys

Especially chimpanzees, which are genetically most similar to humans, turn out to be remarkably talented students again and again. In a test at Kyoto University in Japan, humans and monkeys were compared again.

The numbers one to nine were displayed on a screen in ever different orders and only for a short time. The subjects then had to repeat the series of numbers as quickly as possible.

Although this time the human test subjects were not children but students, the young chimpanzees in particular were vastly superior. Even when the numbers were only displayed for 210 milliseconds, they were able to reconstruct the order.

However, since the adult animals did not do better than humans, the researchers now suspect that young animals have a photographic memory that is only slowly lost over time.

For a long time, the female Washoe, who died in November 2007, was considered the "best in class" of the chimpanzee students. Her adoptive father Roger Fouts, a communication researcher at the University of Ellensburg in Washington State, allegedly taught the chimpanzee lady to communicate in American sign language. Fouts claims that Washoe mastered and used around 250 words and even taught other parts of the language to other people.

However, as is so often the case in intelligence research on great apes, there were and are numerous skeptics. As with other tests, some scientists suspect that Washoe never really understood the language, but only linked cause and effect with one another (association learning).

Intelligent competition: birds

For a long time, great apes were considered to be the most intelligent animals in the world. But although they are enormously capable of learning, there are animals that are in no way inferior to them in terms of intelligence comparison.

Scientists at Oxford University in England found that crows act just as creatively as great apes in order to get hidden rewards. The birds sometimes use three tools in a row to solve the task - a skill that was previously only attributed to great apes.

Another experiment that proves the intelligence of birds is the mirror test. At the Ruhr University in Bochum, magpies had a red dot stuck on their chest. When the animals later looked at each other in the mirror, they immediately tried to remove the point - a sign of self-knowledge. This behavior, too, had previously only been observed in great apes.

But why do the results of the birds seem so astonishing to us? Humans tend to ascribe human characteristics to the great apes because of their visual and genetic similarity. But precisely this can lead to misunderstandings. Because obviously animals that look less like us can definitely be described as intelligent.