Ouch, this one hurts... if you are a college student, not really. A recent study of memory in chimps compared responses on a series of memory tests between the chimps and college students. The BBC headline reads "Chimps beat humans in memory test." After reading the story at BBC news, I decided to look at the original research article published in the scientific journal Current Biology and my personal opinion is that the results are far from saying that chimps memorize better than humans... and of course there is no implication that chimps are smarter than college students. But that type of headline is certain to catch your attention when reading google news. Anyway... the chimps did in fact respond faster in memory tasks (was accuracy in the task sacrificed for speed?) and the single best chimp did beat out the average performance of the students. Keep in mind these tasks were testing short term memory only. Longterm memory was not examined and as anatomy / physiology students you can appreciate that we test your longterm retention on exams :)
But this research is very cool and it certainly suggests that chimps have tremendous ability in terms of short memory tasks, possibly better than many human subjects. They also suggest young chimps have a so called "photographic" memory. In fact, the best performing chimp (of the three tested) was able out perform the combined averages of 9 college students. So, yes, one chimp did beat the college students in this specific memory test. Sign him up for anatomy and physiology? Maybe not... if you watch the video you will see that the memory task is very specific to being able to memorize a complex visual field of numbers and then immediately trying to identify their correct position. Also, looking at the actual published figures suggests to me that humans took longer to respond but had better accuracy. So the chimps might go faster since they may not be as preoccupied with being correct... as the big brain cousins of the chimp, we are usually worried about doing things the right way. There is also interesting discussion about the decline in photographic memory capabilities as humans and chimps age. Cool stuff... you should read the BBC article and even the actual study since it is very short. Check out these videos of the chimps in action!