What is it about?

What do peeling a fruit, memorizing a phone number, playing a musical instrument and reciting a speech have in common? All of these activities imply learning sequences of stimuli and producing sequences of actions in response. Sequences learning is a crucial ability to adapt to the environment and the present study is investigating how this ability might differ between humans and non-human animals. Indeed, one might think that humans are experts in sequence processing, even when sequences are long, given that dealing with sequences of language is an everyday occurrence for them. However, it appears that the mechanism allowing humans to compress information and learn very long sequences despite a limited memory, i.e., chunking, is shared by other animals and especially well established in non-human primates. In our study we are interested in comparing how humans and baboons learn a sequence of 9 touches on a touch screen, over the course of 1,000 trials. Our results show that the general dynamics of learning and the mechanisms underlying this learning are the same for the two species, but that humans are overall faster compared to baboons. We thus discuss the reasons why such differences and similarities might exist in these two primate species.

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Why is it important?

Processing long sequences is a prerequisite to mastering language. Non-human primates do not have language themselves but they evolve in a social environment where complex and long sequences of communication are needed to adapt to the group. Therefore, comparing humans and baboons informs us about similarities and differences between human and non-human primates, that are rooted in behaviors as specific as sequence learning and compression of information in memory but may impact more broadly their overall communication systems.

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This page is a summary of: The dynamics of chunking in humans (Homo sapiens) and Guinea baboons (Papio papio)., Journal of Comparative Psychology, June 2023, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/com0000336.
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