A new study in Scientific Reports has shown that chimpanzees outperform humans in their ability to utilize game theory– a form of mathematics that deals with determining optimal strategies when faced with competitive situations.
The study, led by former CICASP research associate Christopher Flynn Martin and Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa in collaboration with a team of behavioral economists at California Institute of Technology, investigated the strategic reasoning abilities of six chimpanzees at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute. The chimpanzees played in pairs a series of abstract competitive games, known as match/mismatch games, over interconnected computer touch-screens.
In addition to the chimpanzee participants, the researchers also tested a group of 16 students at Kyoto University and a group of 12 west African villagers in Bossou, Guinea. The zero-sum competitive games used in the study were designed to test the abilities of players to predict the behavior of their opponent, and to themselves evade prediction.
Game theorists have determined that there is optimal strategy that can be utilized to nullify one’s opponent’s chances of gaining an edge. This strategy is known as the Nash Equilibrium, named after the Nobel Prize–winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr. The chimpanzees were shown to perform in line with the Nash equilibrium by creating sophisticated sequences of choices that matched the theoretical benchmark, while the human participants did not perform similarly.
What might explain such a result? One possibility, according the study, is that the dominance mediated social environment of chimpanzees may serve to make them expert tacticians with an intuitive sense of game theory. Humans, on the other hand, are more socially cooperative and egalitarian.
Click here to see the original article in Scientific Reports.