Chimps are amazing game theorists

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 09, 2014

I saw the trailer for the new Planet of the Apes movie last night and it looks amazing, but that’s not what I came to talk about. A recent paper shows that chimps do better in some strategy games than humans.

Chimps play the cat and mouse game very well. First, the chimps converge on the Nash Equilibrium strategies. In one set of games the Nash equilibrium strategies had randomization frequencies of .5, .75 and .8 and the chimps played .5, .73 and .79. Second, when payoffs change the chimps adapt their strategies very quickly simply by observation of outcomes.

Camerer et al. also tested humans in similar games and they found that humans often deviate from NE play and they adjust their strategies more slowly when payoffs change, i.e. they learn more slowly! The only thing that Camerer didn’t do was to play humans against chimps in the same game. That would have been awesome!

But that’s nothing compared to this video of a chimp remembering the placement of nine numbers on a screen after seeing them for less than a quarter of a second:

That’s a literal jaw-dropper there.