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Baboons ape humans in abstract thought

Boffins, PCs, and joysticks do the tests

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Baboons may be capable of abstract thought, boffins reckon, following tests on personal computers that suggest hitherto unrecognised levels of intelligence in our distant cousins.

Researchers from France and the US found baboons could spot similarities between different images, a talent that suggests they are capable of intelligent reasoning previously considered the preserve of humans, and chimpanzees. Baboons split off from the evolutionary path that led to Homo Sapiens approximately 30 million years ago, so the tests are interesting in suggesting that complex reasoning has its evolutionary origins earlier than was previously thought.

The Times reports that researchers placed two adult baboons in front of a PC and got them to look at grids containing a variety of small pictures. They were than shown two grids, each of which had 16 squares like the original grid, one of which was similar in design to the original grid but had different images and the other of which contained exactly the same item in each square.

Over time ("many thousands of trials") the baboons learned to regularly move their joysticks to select a grid with the same pattern even though the items that made up the pattern were different. Whether this provides proof of abstract thought or the fact that you can teach monkeys to do anything we're not sure about, but then again we can't claim to be experts on the subject.

A paper on the research by Joel Fagot, of the Centre for Research in Cognitive Neuroscience in Marseilles, and Edward Wasserman, of the University of Iowa, is published in today's edition of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behaviour Processes. ®

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