The Symbolic Monkey? Animals Can Comprehend And Use Symbols, Study Of Tufted Capuchins Suggests

From paintings and photographs to coins and credit cards, we are constantly surrounded by symbolic artefacts. The mental representation of symbols — objects that arbitrarily represent other objects — ultimately affords the development of language, and certainly played a decisive role in the evolution of our hominid ancestors. Can other animal species also comprehend and use symbols? Some evidence suggests that apes, our closest relatives, can indeed use symbols in various contexts. However, little is known about the symbolic competence of phylogenetically more distant species.

A new study presents evidence of symbolic reasoning in tufted capuchin monkeys, a South-American species that diverged from humans about 35 million years ago. In the experiment, five capuchins engaged in “economic choice” behavior. Each monkey chose between three different foods (conventionally referred to A, B and C), offered in variable amounts. Choices were made in two different contexts. In the “real” context, monkeys chose between the actual foods. In the “symbolic” context, monkeys chose between “tokens” (intrinsically valueless objects such as poker chips) that represented the actual foods. After choosing one of the two token options, monkeys could exchange their token with the corresponding food.

Click here for the full article.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: