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Chimpanzee Self Control is Related to Intelligence

Summary: According to researchers, a chimpanzees’ general intelligence is correlated with their ability to delay gratification and exert self control.

Source: Georgia State University.

As is true in humans, chimpanzees’ general intelligence is correlated to their ability to exert self-control and delay gratification, according to new research at Georgia State University.

The research finding relates back to the famous “marshmallow test,” an experiment originally performed at Stanford University in the 1960s. In the test, children are given the choice of taking a small, immediate reward (a single marshmallow placed in front of them) or waiting to earn a larger reward (two marshmallows). Previous research has found that children who perform well on the marshmallow test and other tests of delayed gratification tend to also perform well on tests of general intelligence.

Georgia State researchers Michael J. Beran and William D. Hopkins have found the same link exists in chimpanzees. In their study, published in Current Biology, chimpanzees performed the Hybrid Delay Task, which tracks how often chimpanzees choose to wait for a larger, better reward rather than taking a smaller reward right away. It also measures how well the chimpanzees managed to wait during the delay period, when there is a constant temptation to capitulate and accept the smaller reward.


Those chimpanzees who showed the highest levels of generalized intelligence were also the most efficient in the delayed gratification test. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.

The chimpanzees then completed the Primate Cognitive Test Battery, a test of general intelligence that measures a variety of individual social and cognitive factors, such as the capacity to follow pointing gestures.

Those chimpanzees who showed the highest levels of generalized intelligence were also the most efficient in the delayed gratification test. Intelligence scores were related not only to how often chimpanzees chose to try to wait for the better reward, but also to how well the chimpanzees could wait when they chose to do so. This was the first such study to examine the relation between general intelligence scores and delayed gratification abilities in chimpanzees.

“The fact that this link between self-control and intelligence exists in species other than humans may demonstrate an evolutionary basis for the role that willpower plays in general intelligence,” said Beran, lead author of the study. “Future research could clarify whether the relationship also exists in other primates and even non-primate species.”

About this neuroscience research article

Funding: The research was funded by grants HD-060563 and NS-42867 from the National Institutes of Health.

Source: Jennifer Rainey Marquez – Georgia State University
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research in Current Biology.

Cite This NeuroscienceNews.com Article
Georgia State University “Chimpanzee Self Control is Related to Intelligence.” NeuroscienceNews. NeuroscienceNews, 8 February 2018.
Georgia State University (2018, February 8). Chimpanzee Self Control is Related to Intelligence. NeuroscienceNews. Retrieved February 8, 2018 from http://neurosciencenews.com/chimp-intelligence-self-control-8458/
Georgia State University “Chimpanzee Self Control is Related to Intelligence.” http://neurosciencenews.com/chimp-intelligence-self-control-8458/ (accessed February 8, 2018).


Self-Control in Chimpanzees Relates to General Intelligence

•In humans, delay of gratification appears to be related to general intelligence
•Chimpanzees completed an intelligence test and a test of delay of gratification
•Intelligence scores were most closely related to delay-of-gratification efficiency
•Factors that loaded most strongly on g scores were most related to delay scores

For humans, there appears to be a clear link between general intelligence and self-control behavior, such as sustained delay of gratification. Chimpanzees also delay gratification and can be given tests of general intelligence (g), but these two constructs have never been compared within the same sample of nonhuman animals. We presented 40 chimpanzees with the hybrid delay task (HDT), which measures inter-temporal choices and the capacity for sustained delay of gratification, and the primate cognitive test battery (PCTB), which measures g in chimpanzees. Importantly, none of the sub-tasks in the PCTB directly assesses self-control or other forms of behavioral inhibition. Rather, they assess areas of physical cognition (e.g., quantity discrimination) or social cognition (e.g., gaze following). In three phases of testing, we consistently found that the strongest relation was between chimpanzee g scores and efficiency in the HDT. Chimpanzee g was not most closely related to the proportion of trials the chimpanzees chose to try to wait for delayed rewards, but rather most closely related to how good they were at waiting for those rewards when they chose to do so. We also found the same strong relation between HDT efficiency and those factors in the PCTB that loaded most strongly on chimpanzee g. These results highlight that, as with humans, there is a strong relation between chimpanzees’ self-control and overall intelligence—a relation that likely reflects the role of successful inhibitory control during cognitive processing of information and intelligent decision-making.

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