Chimpanzees can learn to play Rock, Paper, Scissors, study reveals

Apes are as adept as four-year-old children at age-old hand signal game, researchers say

Harry Cockburn
Saturday 12 August 2017 16:33 BST
The chimps reportedly struggled to learn that scissors beat paper
The chimps reportedly struggled to learn that scissors beat paper

Chimpanzees can learn the rules to the popular hand-signal game Rock, Paper, Scissors, scientists have discovered.

An experiment at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University in Japan, revealed that though it took them considerably longer, the apes could learn the game as well as young children.

Lead author Jie Gao, of the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University in Japan, said: “The study aimed to investigate whether chimpanzees could learn a transverse pattern by being trained in the rules of the Rock, Paper, Scissors game.

“The chimpanzees’ performance was similar to that of four-year-old children. The primary difference between the chimpanzees and children in the present study was the method of learning.

“Children changed their choice immediately after they made a wrong one, whereas the chimpanzees would often take multiple sessions to correct themselves.”

As well as taking the chimps longer to learn the relationship between the signals, they also struggled to grasp that scissors beat paper.

The scientists used seven chimpanzees of various ages and sexes in the experiment.

They were trained to respond to the hand signals on a computer touch-screen, choosing the stronger of two options – just as the game is played.

First the researchers taught the chimps the paper-rock combination, followed by the rock-scissors one, and finally paper and scissors.

The scientists also taught the game to 38 children aged 3-6 to compare the speed of the learning process.

Who knows when chimpanzees will master chess, Cluedo or Settlers of Catan (Getty)

Ms Gao said the findings suggested that “children acquire the ability to learn a circular relationship and to solve a transverse patterning problem around the age of four years.”

She said “the chimpanzees' performance during the mixed-pair sessions was similar to that of four-year-old children.”

The earliest variation of Rock, Paper, Scissors is thought to date from China's Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220).

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