Chimpanzees Even Smarter Than We Thought - Can Mentally Measure Pouring Liquid's Volume

chimpanzee photo

photo: Adam via flickr.

In what seems to be a string of animals being more intelligent than we thought stories, chimpanzees are even smarter than we thought they were. BBC News reports that researchers at Georgia State University have found that chimps have a basic grasp of the physics of liquid:Chimps Can Mentally Measure Volume of Liquid as it Pours
In one experiment chimps were presented with two cups, one clear and one opaque. Fruit juice was poured from a syringe into each, in varying amounts as the chimps watched. The chimps chose the larger quantity to drink more than three-quarters of the time.

Using an opaque cup was crucial: It prevented the chimps from just comparing the level of liquid in each cup before choosing; they had to remember how much juice had been poured into each one.

A variation of the experiment was done where the clear cup already contained a pre-measured amount of juice. The chimps again were able to judge which container had more liquid in it. By presenting them with one container with liquid already in it, the possibility that the chimps were just timing the length of the pour, rather than the volume of liquid poured, was eliminated.

Then the researchers tried to trick the chimps a bit, by varying the height of pours--something which researcher Dr Michael Beran described as being an "old favorite of experienced bartenders" to give the impression that more liquid is being poured than actually is. This trick failed to fool the chimps, who chose the greater volume over 80% of the time.

We Need to Rethink Our Position on Animal Intelligence
As for the implications of these findings, published in the journal Animal Cognition, Dr Beran says,

Certainly, these kind of capabilities, like many others that we continue to find in nonhuman animals, require rethinking our positions on animal intelligence. The results also support the position that there is psychological as well as biological continuity across species, at least for many cognitive and intellectual abilities.

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