While The Lede considered Man versus Machine, scientists were studying another historic duel: Baby versus Chimp.
106 chimpanzees, 32 orangutans and 105 humans who were about 2.5 years old were put through “The Primate Cognition Test Battery,” which includes 16 tasks divided between physical and social cognition. Here’s how the authors of the study in the journal Science described the difference:
Physical cognition deals with inanimate objects and their spatial-temporal-causal relations, whereas social cognition deals with other animate beings and their intentional actions, perceptions, and knowledge.
Now brace yourselves, human readers: The babies did not trounce the apes. In fact, chimpanzees scored more correct responses in the tests on causality and just about tied on spatial skills, according to this chart.
But the social learning tests were a rout for the babies, with chimpanzees way behind and orangutans apparently shut out. Reuters outlines how one social learning test went:
A researcher showed the children and apes how to pop open a plastic tube to get food or a toy contained inside. The children observed and imitated the solution. Chimpanzees and orangutans, however, tried to smash open the tube or yank out the contents with their teeth.
Despite the mixed results, Time magazine sounded uplifted. After all, the results suggested that we are special because we “cooperate and share expertise.” And that’s what “has allowed us to build complex societies, collaborate and learn from each other at a high level.”