Dumb as a monkey, smart as a chimp*

A natural poker face: Chimps prove to be more rational players than humans. Photo by belgianchocolate at

Are chimpanzees smarter than people? Only if you’re a Vulcan who believes that rationality and intelligence are the same thing.

Researchers taught chimps how to play a sharing game. A chip was given a prize, but could only keep it if he offered to share it with the other player, and the other player agreed to take what was offered. If the offer was refused, neither player got anything.

They then taught humans how to play the same game. The researchers found that the chimps always accepted any offer, while the humans often rejected offers that they felt were too low. At the end of the game, the chimps ended up with more prizes than the human players.

According to the article,

The researchers concluded chimpanzees do not show a willingness to make fair offers and reject unfair ones. In this way, they protect their self interest and are unwilling to pay a cost to punish someone they perceive as unfair.

An equally valid interpretation would be that the chimps didn’t understand the meaning of “fair” or “unfair.” Another interpretation would be that the chimps figured out this was a stupid game, and accepted every offer just to end it quickly, while the humans tried to figure out how to win.

Perhaps chimps ain’t so dumb after all.

* (With apologies to Abe Simpson)

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

sk8r person's picture
sk8r person says:

hey! i think this monkey business is kind of interesting. I think it is sort of cool to find it out. My question is about the monkey. Are chimpanzees the only monkey/apes that act this way or do others do it too?

posted on Fri, 11/02/2007 - 12:30pm

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