Chimpanzees show some evidence of selectively acquiring information by using tools, making inferences, and evaluating possible outcomes.

Research paper by Bonnie M BM Perdue, Theodore A TA Evans, Michael J MJ Beran

Indexed on: 12 Apr '18Published on: 12 Apr '18Published in: PloS one


Metacognition refers to thinking about one's thinking or knowing what one knows. Research suggests that this ability is not unique to humans and may be shared with nonhuman animals. In particular, great apes have shown behaviors on a variety of tasks that are suggestive of metacognitive ability. Here we combine a metacognitive task, the information-seeking task, with tool use and variable forms of initial information provided to chimpanzees to explore how informational states impact behavioral responses in these apes. Three chimpanzees were presented with an apparatus that contained five locations where food could be hidden. If they pointed to the correct location, they received the reward, but otherwise they did not. We first replicated several existing findings using this method, and then tested novel hypotheses. The chimpanzees were given different types of information across the experiments. Sometimes, they were shown the location of the food reward. Other times, they were shown only one empty location, which was not useful information. The chimpanzees also could use a tool to search any of those locations before making a selection. Chimpanzees typically used the tool to search out the location of the reward when they could not already know where it was, but they did not use the tool when they already had been given that information. One chimpanzee made inferences about the location of hidden food, even when that food was never shown in that location. The final experiment involved hiding foods of differing preference values, and then presenting the chimpanzees with different initial knowledge states (i.e., where the best food was located, where the less-preferred food was located, or where no food was located). All chimpanzees used the tool when they needed to use it to find the best possible item on that trial, but responded by choosing a location immediately when they did not need the tool. This finding highlights that their behavior was not the result of a simple rule following such as pointing to where any food had been seen.