The Cognitive Tradeoff Hypothesis

published on July 9, 2020

This is Inuyama, Japan,a historic cityhome to Japan's oldestoriginal wooden castleIt is also hometo Kyoto University'sPrimate Research Institute Here, a group of chimpanzees have been trained

to play a game that exposes something shocking about their memories This is going to blow your mind Here is how it works Take a look at these numbers 1, 2, 3

Remember where they are, because they're about to disappear Can you point to where each number used to be in numerical order? Probably It's pretty easy 1, 2, 3

But what if we make it harder? Get ready to point to where each number was in order now If you feel like you didn't have enough time to memorize the screen, that's fine It's nothing to be ashamed of

Or is it? Here is a chimpanzee taking exactly that long to memorize the same arrangement Nailed it Each of these puzzles is completely new to the chimpanzee,

but just a glance is all it needs to completely capture all the numbers How can a chimpanzee's memory be so much better than ours? Well, one theory is that we humans are worse at this task because we can talk

What makes humans differentfrom other animals?Well, one thing is languageWe have the cognitive abilityto communicate not just aboutwhat's happening now,but also about what did happen,and what could happenWe can tell stories,and it's awesome

But if language is so good,why didn't any other animaldevelop it like we did? A good approach to this question is one that looks at how we are different from those who were almost us Around 7 million years ago,

there were no chimpanzees and there were no humans But there were CHLCAs, an acronym which stands for "Chimpanzee-Human Last Common Ancestor" Like us, CHLCAs didn't have great natural offenses or defenses,

protective shells or claws, fangs or venom So living in the safety of the trees was great Those who stayed became the chimps we know today But for reasons we're still not quite sure of, some of the CHLCAs decidedto venture down to the savanna Without appropriate physical abilities,

things like cooperation, imagining new strategies, and the assigning of roles were necessary for survival, all of which are easier if you have a rich collection of symbols that can refer to things across time: language

Many different types of creatures emerged with varying adaptations But today, only one member of the family remains UsLanguage as we know it may havebeen one of the strategiesthat kept us alivein the savanna

But where did it move in?The brains of thosewho developed languageand those who didn'taren't totally differentA brand-new brain structuredidn't just pop into existenceInstead, anatomy usedfor other tasksmust have been sacrificed

And as it turns out,for beautiful reasons,detailed short-term memorymay have beena fair thing to losein return for languageThis trade-offbetween memory and languageis the Cognitive TradeoffHypothesis

The Cognitive Tradeoff Hypothesis is the culmination of decades of work by one of the world's leading primatologists, Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University's Primate Research Institute Founded in 1967,

the institute was created for scientific research in association with the nearby Japan Monkey CenterThe collaborative centers house over 60 species and nearly 1,000 primates who live and play in open spacesLook at monkeysIs there a babyon that one?

– Six months?- YesThat's where they liveCan you do it? Dr Matsuzawa has spent over 40 years researching non-human primates He splits his time between fieldwork

in the West African country of Guinea, and here in Japan, where he and his colleagues have developed a chimpanzee habitat designed to mimic life in the wildThis habitat is home to Skylab, a working laboratory

set high atop the chimpanzee'' climbing structure In this open air lab, chimpanzees are free to come and go as they pleaseAnd this is how you move? If they decide to stay, they participate in cognitively enriching tasks

designed to mimic foraging behavior When the chimpanzees are interested in participating, they enter one of Skylab's specially designed computer booths, where a camera uses facial recognition software to recognize them and select a test

based that particular chimp's current familiarity with the task Each trial takes about as long as it would for a chimp to forage a single bite And each morsel of food they get is accounted for in their diet

Do the doors openwhen they approach?No human even needs to be? So, what is for us a great way to collect data, is for them an experience similar in many ways to what they would be doing in the wild

Impressive Dr Matsuzawa has been running memory tests like these on chimpanzees since 1978 His research has shown the phenomenal and nearly photographic short-term memory of these primates

Two of the most famous chimps at the PRI are Ai, named after the Japanese word for "love," and her son Ayumu, whose name means "walk" What can we learn about ourselves by studying chimpanzees like them? Well, I want to find out

If we and chimpanzeescome from a common ancestor,what can explain the splitwhere the chimpanzeesdon't seem to needor to develop languagelike we did?Why would that happen?Was it an accident?Ah-ha

Our habitatprovided a pressureto develop languageYes-That's incredible-MmSo, in a way, we should bereally gratefulthat our ancestorswere so weak,

They got pushedout of the trees-Bang, bang- I'd invite you to bea part of this interview,but you don't have languageRight nowMm-hmm

Quick decisionsOur ancestors didn't havethat same pressure?Hmm The Cognitive Tradeoff Hypothesis suggests that in the dangerous world beyond the trees, early humans needed to teach each other

and use abstract symbols that could refer not just to the immediate here and now, but to hypotheticals and generalities Making room for that kind of abstract thinkingmeant sacrificing the immediate and detailed memory of their ancestors

YeahI'm able to imaginepast and futureI'm able to describe thingsin an abstract wayAnd I don't need the details,because I have the labelSo it seems like a pretty goodtrade-off

YeahYeahWhat a great message, right?Sharing is what makes us "us"I would love to see yourworking memory testson chimpanzees in action

I would also really loveto participate myselfand see how well I can docompared to a chimpanzeeYesHave you ever hada human and a chimpanzeecompete like thattogether?– They're excited

-about the idea too-An opportunity to do the memory task just like a chimpanzee is really special Who knows how it will go? Let's see who shows up– Yeah!

You're really goodat this, Ai Looks like today,it will be celebrity chimp, Ai Ai is older now, and just like in humans, her cognitive abilities have decreased with time So I may actually stand a chance To face off against Ai,

I will be sitting in the booth next to her Normally, her son Ayumu plays against her But today, well,she's in for some Michael timeI'm not your child, though,am I? The tests are going to get harder as we go along How will my memory compare to that of a chimp

who never made the same cognitive trade-off? In the first round, the task is to rememberwhere each of the three numbers are in numerical order But here's the trick: as soon as I touch one of them on the screen, the other two will be covered by solid squares,

so I can no longer see where they are Now, well, it's up to my memoryOkay, let's go If I make a mistake, I get an error noise like this while a correct answer

sounds like this When the chimpanzee gets it right, they are rewarded with apples The human, me, well, just gets the bragging rightsI'm not getting applesYou really actually haveto focus more than I expected

Almost messed that one upHow did Michael do?95 On my first run, I've managed to beat AiWhat is the next task?

How many symbols?WhoaThis is a lot harder This game is similar to the last, but starts a little bit differently This time, three numbers appear on a blank screen,

but as soon as I touch the first one, the entire screen is covered in boxesWhewAiyou having fun?-Whoa!-

Ai is used to Ayumu, her son, playing the game beside her, so my presence may be throwing her offI'm here for moral support, Ai It was fun squaring off against Ai, but I want to see how I would do against her son, AyumuI'm ready

Okay Ayumu is currently Matsuzawa's best pupil, able to ace the memory tests at blazingly fast speeds But today, Ayumu is not interested in mental combat He's busy flirting with some young ladies who live with him here at the PRI

And since free choice is the guiding principle of Matsuzawa's research, we can't make him join us The good news is that Ayumu doesn't need to be here for me to compete against him The game can be presented to me just as Ayumu does it: with nine numerals

Let's see if my luck is the same against Ayumu as it was against AiOh, manOkay–WowEven when I take timeI can't do it right

Okay, more timeI thought I had that oneIt takes a long time to memorizenine numerals' positionsIt's embarrassinghow long this takes meI can do this oneAll right

YeahYou don't needto laugh about itThirteenI got better, yeah,because you were pressuring meJesusSix times worse,six times slower

Yeah I would love to This is the most difficult test I have to remember all nine numbers in numerical order at Ayumu's speed, which is to say, I have to do what I could barely do before,

but now I have to memorize them all within the amount of time it takes to blinkSo I get half a secondto prepare?I'm going to prove you wrong As a reminder, this is how Ayumu performs,

which is standard for a young chimpYou got to be kidding me-That's way too fast-I got the first threeIt's like a jokeI don't know where the 2 is

It's too fastTrying to think of thisvery holisticallyAfter the first three,if I see them,I'm just having to guessYeah It's impossibleWell, I hope this washelpful for you

It was the first time you hadhad a chimpanzee and a humantogether in the boothWhat do you think–?If you ever need meto study as a primate,-I give myself to you-OkayWow

And we need to make sureto preserve them-They're already endangered-YesAnd yet they are our closestlink to understandingwhat we came fromand where we might goMm It's like taking careof your family

– Mm, right- Quite literallyYes The fact that humans alone use complex symbolic language doesn't make us any better than any other species It just means that the path we took required it

In fact, in some ways we aren't better, because we can talk Today, we study those who took different paths as a way to learn more about ourselves If we lose them, we lose part of our story, where we came from,

who we are, and who we can be in the future And, as always, thanks for watching This season, on Mind FieldI will die

But should I?I want to performa reverse exorcismThere was likea glowing figure, manI would love to do the Stanfordprison experiment againThere, let's blast them againNumber threeHave you ever had a human

And a chimpanzee competelike that together?You having fun?-Whoa!-No, not reallyI am going to makemy hometownfunction like a brainDoing a good moral deed canactually make you more likely

To do something immoralWe're going to see if wecan get people to allow a childto take the blamefor a crime they committed-How old are you, son?-Twelve We're going to needto talk to the policeThis facility is where you bothcryo-preserve people

And store themWe have 159 patientsin these tanksWe're offering an unknownextension of human lifespan- You spiedon their dream-YeahThat's pretty spooky We received a messagefrom outer space

Please figure outwhat this message is saying- You ready?-I'm readyHey, I have to leaveand go over to the next episode,but you can come with meClick below to check outthe next episode of Mind FieldI'll see you there

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