Ayumu, the Chimpanzee: Background information when reading Animal Wise

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Animal Wise

The Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures

by Virginia Morell

Animal Wise by Virginia Morell X
Animal Wise by Virginia Morell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Feb 2013, 304 pages
    Mar 2014, 304 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Christian Tubau

Buy This Book

About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Ayumu, the Chimpanzee

Print Review

In Virginia Morell's Animal Wise, the reader learns many surprising things about a chimpanzee's skills. The book features one chimpanzee in Japan, Ayumu, who was has been extremely successful at sequence-memory tests. Ayumu lives with his mother Ai at the University of Kyoto's Primate Research Institute, headed by Professor Tetsuro Matsuzawa. In a test, the chimpanzee was shown a randomly distributed sequence of numerals over milliseconds, a blink of an eye, on a touchscreen. Then the numbers were hidden behind white blocks and Ayumu was expected to remember the location of the numerals and touch the white blocks in the correct ascending order. As the video of the experiment below, shows, the quickness and precision of Ayumu's responses were extremely impressive.

This same experiment has been conducted numerous times on Ayumu, his mom and on human subjects. As part of the study, the time between when the subject is shown the numbers, and then covered up, was changed. The results were then been tallied. In the case of Ai and the human subjects, if the time spent viewing the numbers was decreased, the corresponding memory recall also dropped off steeply. This was found to be not the case with Ayumu who has shown that he can recall up to nine numbers in the right sequence even when shown these nine numbers for only 210 milliseconds (that's less than the blink of an eye).

Understandably, the video showing Ayumu doing his experiment became wildly popular and even lead scientists to conclude that chimpanzees' working memory might be more powerful than humans'.

The experiment has been quite controversial however. Apparently Ayumu had had significant hours of practice before the test whereas the human subjects had not. What's more when humans were allowed to practice even a little bit, they scored equally well. In the book, Morell calls the Ayumu study puzzling to academia but she does not review the associated controversy in depth.

Controversies aside, what factors explain Ayumu's fantastic memory recall? Professor Matsuzawa has said that it can be attributed to something called "eidetic" memory. The chimpanzees seem to use this eidetic or photographic memory to take mental images, like snapshots, of the surrounding world. Of course if all chimpanzees have eidetic memory, it does not explain why only Ayumu and not his mother, Ai, could perform astoundingly well at the experiment.

Chimps are also thought to be better at a skill called subitizing. This is a method that helps you figure out in one glance how many of a specific object there are in a bunch of different items. Say you had a grouping of five bananas, four apples and three oranges. In one visual scan, humans can tell there are five bananas. It is speculated that the upper limit for humans is five, whereas chimpanzees can subitize groups of even six or more. Finally some have suggested that Ayumu might have a form of synesthesia in which numbers and letters come across as colored. So he might be punching a sequence of specific colors instead of what looks like a random bunch of white digits. These theories might explain why Ayumu can quickly do visual scans and produce remarkable results.

Article by Christian Tubau

This article was originally published in April 2013, and has been updated for the March 2014 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This article is available to non-members for a limited time. You can also read these articles for free. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Eat the Apple
    Eat the Apple
    by Matt Young
    Truth is stranger than fiction. Matt Young's memoir tackles the space in between truth and ...
  • Book Jacket: Educated
    by Tara Westover
    Tara Westover had the kind of upbringing most of us can only imagine. She was the youngest of seven ...
  • Book Jacket: The Girls in the Picture
    The Girls in the Picture
    by Melanie Benjamin
    Melanie Benjamin's fine historical novel about the relationship between two women in the early ...
  • Book Jacket: The Driest Season
    The Driest Season
    by Meghan Kenny
    On a summer afternoon in 1943, an almost sixteen-year-old Cielle Jacobson walks into the family barn...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The House of Broken Angels
    by Luis Alberto Urrea

    The definitive Mexican-American immigrant story from an acclaimed storyteller.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

I Y L D W D, Y'll G U W Fleas

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.