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Comparing chimpanzees' preparatory responses to known and unknown future outcomes

Lambert, Megan L. LU and Osvath, Mathias LU (2018) In Biology letters 14(9).
Abstract

When humans plan for the future, we recognize not only that one particular event may occur, but that the future can have different, mutually exclusive possible outcomes. A recent study by Suddendorf et al. (Suddendorf 2017 Biol. Lett. 13, 20170170 (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0170)) suggests that young children (less than 3 years) and apes lack this capacity, as demonstrated by their failure to cover each of two tube openings to ensure catching an object that would drop randomly from one of the tubes. Before drawing conclusions based on these negative results, however, it is important to assess subjects' failures and test the reliability of the task itself. To explore whether the apes' performance resulted from an inability to represent... (More)

When humans plan for the future, we recognize not only that one particular event may occur, but that the future can have different, mutually exclusive possible outcomes. A recent study by Suddendorf et al. (Suddendorf 2017 Biol. Lett. 13, 20170170 (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0170)) suggests that young children (less than 3 years) and apes lack this capacity, as demonstrated by their failure to cover each of two tube openings to ensure catching an object that would drop randomly from one of the tubes. Before drawing conclusions based on these negative results, however, it is important to assess subjects' failures and test the reliability of the task itself. To explore whether the apes' performance resulted from an inability to represent mutually exclusive futures or from extraneous factors related to the task, we replicated the methods of Suddendorf et al. (Suddendorf 2017 Biol. Lett. 13, 20170170 (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0170)) with a group of six chimpanzees but included a key control condition in which subjects were expected to cover both tubes on every trial (i.e. the rewards would consistently emerge from both tubes). We show that even in this straightforward condition in which the outcome of the trial was known, only four of the six subjects ever covered both tubes, typically doing so after a minimum of 17 trials, and often reverting back to covering one tube on later trials. We conclude that this task is not valid for testing the ability to represent mutually exclusive futures. We discuss what potential factors may explain the results and outline a new suggested method to continue testing for this capacity in the future.

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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
published
subject
keywords
comparative cognition, future planning, uncertainty
in
Biology letters
volume
14
issue
9
publisher
Royal Society
external identifiers
  • scopus:85054535381
ISSN
1744-9561
DOI
10.1098/rsbl.2018.0499
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
ee84c5f0-be0c-42a5-ad8d-cd374c8a9b1d
date added to LUP
2018-11-05 12:08:00
date last changed
2019-01-06 14:13:21
@article{ee84c5f0-be0c-42a5-ad8d-cd374c8a9b1d,
  abstract     = {<p>When humans plan for the future, we recognize not only that one particular event may occur, but that the future can have different, mutually exclusive possible outcomes. A recent study by Suddendorf et al. (Suddendorf 2017 Biol. Lett. 13, 20170170 (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0170)) suggests that young children (less than 3 years) and apes lack this capacity, as demonstrated by their failure to cover each of two tube openings to ensure catching an object that would drop randomly from one of the tubes. Before drawing conclusions based on these negative results, however, it is important to assess subjects' failures and test the reliability of the task itself. To explore whether the apes' performance resulted from an inability to represent mutually exclusive futures or from extraneous factors related to the task, we replicated the methods of Suddendorf et al. (Suddendorf 2017 Biol. Lett. 13, 20170170 (doi:10.1098/rsbl.2017.0170)) with a group of six chimpanzees but included a key control condition in which subjects were expected to cover both tubes on every trial (i.e. the rewards would consistently emerge from both tubes). We show that even in this straightforward condition in which the outcome of the trial was known, only four of the six subjects ever covered both tubes, typically doing so after a minimum of 17 trials, and often reverting back to covering one tube on later trials. We conclude that this task is not valid for testing the ability to represent mutually exclusive futures. We discuss what potential factors may explain the results and outline a new suggested method to continue testing for this capacity in the future.</p>},
  articleno    = {0499},
  author       = {Lambert, Megan L. and Osvath, Mathias},
  issn         = {1744-9561},
  keyword      = {comparative cognition,future planning,uncertainty},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {09},
  number       = {9},
  publisher    = {Royal Society},
  series       = {Biology letters},
  title        = {Comparing chimpanzees' preparatory responses to known and unknown future outcomes},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rsbl.2018.0499},
  volume       = {14},
  year         = {2018},
}