Looking For The Best Strategy? Ask A Chimp

English: Human and chimpanzee skull and brain

Human and chimpanzee skull and brain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Researchers at Caltech elucidate the superior short term memory of chimpanzees, amongst other things.

via EurekaAlert!

If you’re trying to outwit the competition, it might be better to have been born a chimpanzee, according to a study by researchers at Caltech, which found that chimps at the Kyoto University Primate Research Institute consistently outperform humans in simple contests drawn from game theory.

The study, led by Colin Camerer, Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics, and appearing on June 5 in the online publication Scientific Reports, involved a simple game of hide-and-seek that researchers call the Inspection Game. In the game, two players (either a pair of chimps or a pair of humans) are set up back to back, each facing a computer screen. To start the game, each player pushes a circle on the monitor and then selects one of two blue boxes on the left or right side of the screen. After both players have chosen left or right, the computer shows each player her opponent’s choice. This continues through 200 iterations per game. The goal of the players in the “hiding” role—the “mismatchers”—is to choose the opposite of their opponent’s selection. Players in the “seeking” role—the “matchers”—win if they make the same choices as their opponent. Winning players receive a reward: a chunk of apple for the chimps or a small coin for the humans. If players are to win repeatedly, they have to accurately predict what their opponent will do next, anticipating their strategy.

The game, though simple, replicates a situation that is common in the everyday lives of both chimps and humans. Study coauthor Peter Bossaerts, a visiting associate in finance at Caltech, gives an example from human life: an employee who wants to work only when her employer is watching and prefers to play video games when unobserved. To better conceal her secret video game obsession, the employee must learn the patterns of the employer’s behavior—when they might or might not be around to check up on the worker. Employers who suspect their employees are up to no good, however, need to be unpredictable, popping in randomly to see what the staff is doing on company time.

The Inspection Game not only models such situations, it also provides methods to quantify behavioral choices. “The nice thing about the game theory used in this study is that it allows you to boil down all of these situations to their strategic essence,” explains Caltech graduate student and coauthor Rahul Bhui.







  • BuzzCoastin

    an employee who wants to work only when her employer is watching and
    prefers to play video games when unobserved
    to better conceal her secret video game obsession
    the employee must learn the patterns of the employer’s behavior

    I think this proves only chimps are best suited
    for the imprisonment thingy called a job
    humans should be smarter

  • Simon Valentine

    spooky action at a distance
    CHIM theory
    Signal D13
    “chimp society is more synchronized than …”


    Signal marker D13 occurs at object y on earth exactly x years before star z explodes – let y and x be constant while z varies, or, let y and z be constant while x varies.

    Why waste time going through machinations – theories about star explosions – if what is sought is directly available? Why filter out information? Quite simply, D13 does exist, but – typically – all functions attempted fail to calibrate signal reception to detect D13.

    No, this isn’t a clever Independence Day reference.
    No, this isn’t a joke about an omniscient military’s apophasis.

    What occlusion is required to synchronize a simulation to the explosion of Betelgeuse so I can have a proper new-years-like drop-the-star party?
    Is it any of the bullshit you or anyone else did or could conjunctively think of?

    It’s not strategy. It’s not game theory. It’s not physics. It’s not anything. It’s all fake people doing fake monkey business all the same. Shallen’t thine passing ergo?

    • marshall

      This is the funniest post I have ever read, anywhere on the internet, ever.

  • Kevin Leonard

    What a grand assumption that the chimps are using any mental processes that can be thought of as ‘strategy.’

  • InfvoCuernos

    Its all about who wants that apple most, just like the superbowl.