Sunday, 13 May 2012

Chimps are smarter than humans

Better think twice before you call someone an ape next time... Colin Camerer just wrote what must be the most amazing paper in economics in a long time. Here is the abstract:

Chimpanzee game theory

The capacity of humans and other animal species to think strategically about the likely payoff-relevant actions of conspecifics is not thoroughly understood. Games are mathematical descriptions of canonical ways in which joint choices determine interdependent rewards. Game theory is a collection of ideas about how strategic thinking and learning determine choice. We test predictions of game theory in three simple competitive abstract games with chimpanzee and human participants. Subjects make choices on a dual touchscreen panel and earn food or coin rewards. The chimpanzee and human protocols are closely matched on experimental procedures. The results show that aggregated frequencies of chimpanzee choices are very close to equilibrium points; and choices shift with reward changes almost exactly as predicted by equilibrium theory. Remarkably, chimpanzee choices are closer to the equilibrium prediction than human choices are. Chimpanzee and human choices also exhibit unpredictability on average from trial-to-trial (a
property which is adaptive in competitive games), but individual subject-sessions show substantial predictability of choices from past choices and rewards. The results are generally consistent with the cognitive tradeoff hypothesis, which conjectures that some human cognitive ability inherited from chimpanzee kin may have been displaced by dramatic growth in the human neural capacity for language (and perhaps associated skills). As a result, chimpanzees retained the ability, slightly
superior to humans, to adjust strategy competitively and in unpredictable ways, conforming remarkably closely to equilibrium predictions from game theory.
The paper is here; there are other results pointing in the same direction (hat tip-CheapTalk)

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