Memory for stimulus sequences distinguishes humans from other animals

Humans possess many cognitive abilities not seen in other animals, such as a full-blown language capacity as well as reasoning and planning abilities. Despite these differences, however, it has been difficult to identify specific mental capacities that distinguish humans from other animals. Researchers at the City University of New York (CUNY) and Stockholm University have now discovered that humans have a much better memory to recognize and remember sequential information.

"The data we present in our study indicate that humans have evolved a superior capacity to deal with sequential information. We suggest that this can be an important piece of the puzzle to understand differences between humans and other animals," says Magnus Enquist, head of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Evolution at Stockholm University.

The new study collated data from 108 experiments on birds and mammals, showing that the surveyed species had great difficulties in distinguishing between certain sequences of stimuli.

"In some experiments, animals had to remember the order in which a green and a red lamp were lit. Even this simple discrimination turned out to be very difficult, and the difficulties increase with longer sequences. In contrast, animals perform as well as humans in most cases in which they have to distinguish between single stimuli, rather than sequences," says Johan Lind, a co-author of the study and an Associate Professor at Stockholm University.

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