Not Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: Chimps Kick Butt in Game of Strategy

Perhaps it's because I've become so accustomed to looking for the hidden marketing and public relations hand in reported news, but I couldn't help but wonder, if only for a moment, if a study about the competitive smarts of chimpanzees was somehow tied to the pending release of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

In one particular game of strategic decision making called the Inspection Game, it turns out that chimps came much closer to maximizing their competitive advantage than did their human counterparts.

But why?

Chimps Outwit Humans in Games of Strategy:

There are two possible explanations that researchers currently find plausible. The first has to do with the roles of competition and cooperation in chimpanzee versus human societies; the second with the differential evolution of human and chimpanzee brains since our evolutionary paths split between 4 and 5 million years ago.

The past half-century has seen an enormous divergence of opinion as to how cooperative or competitive humans 'naturally' are, and though this debate is far from settled, it is clear that wherever humans sit on the cooperative/competitive scale, common chimpanzees are more competitive with one another than we are.

I was happy to see a nod to cooperation as a fundamental human trait. In addition to game theorists, biologists of course have long studied the extent to which cooperation is a "natural" part of human experience. I'd wager that anthropologists have a lot to say on the matter, as would behavioral economists since classical micro-economic theory is based in human exchange being determined exclusively by a conscious self-interest. And of course, the world's monotheistic traditions have long acknowledged that humans live somewhere on the cooperative/competitive scale, observing that our default behavior is to act in our own interests, to fall short of our potential, while urging upon us a deferential course of action.

There are, sadly, limits to my generosity as well. So at the moment I'm thinking that somewhere a studio executive is crying over his vodka tonic about the missed tie-in. Also: the silent video of chimps sitting at terminals with the lights flashing is just a little bit spooky.

Stay curious. And have a great weekend.