In the scientific parlance, it’s a proven fact that humans are phylogenetically related to apes. Scientists at UC Berkeley, Harvard University, and Carnegie Mellon University through their research have discovered a strong evidence which confirms that all humans and some non-primates, think alike. These scientists carried out a study on 100 participants having different age groups, cultures and species. The results revealed that the American adults, preschoolers, macaque monkeys, and Tsimane’ people in Bolivia’s Amazon rainforest, all show the quality of “recursion“. It is the quality of breaking down bigger problems into smaller ones, so as to arrive at a solution. This quality is seen across all age groups, species and cultures across the world, as revealed by the experimental results.
One of the co-authors of the study, Sam Cheyette, a PhD student at the Piantadosi’s lab, revealed that monkeys performed far better in this study than scientists predicted. He further added, that with rigorous training monkeys too can learn the art of recursion. This quality is thought to be unique to humans but monkeys can indubitably master it if they set their mind to it.
Human language is a “nested structure” in which letters combine to form syllables, syllables form words and words form sentences. The ability of combining words and parts of words into sentences is known as “syntax”. The scientists carried out their research on 3 macaque monkeys, 50 preschoolers and kindergartners, 10 US adults and 37 members of Tsimane‘. They were trained to memorize different sequences in a particular order.
To keep a track of the performance of the US participants and monkeys, a touch-screen laptop was used. In addition to this, a bell sound rung for every correct answer, a buzzer for wrong answer and a chime if they got the entire sequence right. Monkeys were enticed using snacks or juice boxes. Tsimane‘ people are not as tech-savvy as the rest of the world and hence scientists resorted to paper cards and verbal feedback in their case.
Much to everyone’s surprise, Tsimane‘ people, preschoolers and monkeys were able to recognize a lot of the sequences correctly even though they have no experience in the arena of mathematics and reading.
After having successfully conducted the research, scientists aspire to further study the relation between the brains of humans and monkeys. Monkeys are intelligent animals, and this study certainly proved it. I guess it’s right to say that “monkey see monkey do!”