Orangutans (Pongo abelii) "play the odds": information-seeking strategies in relation to cost, risk, and benefit.

Research paper by Heidi L HL Marsh, Suzanne E SE MacDonald

Indexed on: 26 Oct '11Published on: 26 Oct '11Published in: Journal of comparative psychology (Washington, D.C. : 1983)


Recent research has examined whether animals possess metacognition, or the ability to monitor their knowledge states. However, the extent to which animals actively control their knowledge states is still not well delineated. Although organisms might be capable of seeking information when it is lacking, it does not mean that it is always adaptive to do so. In the present set of experiments, we examined the flexibility of this behavior in captive orangutans (Pongo abelii; two adults and one juvenile) in a foraging task, by varying the necessity of information-seeking, the cost associated with it, the likelihood of error, and the value of the reward. In Experiment 1, subjects searched for information most often when it was "cheapest" energetically. In Experiment 2, subjects searched for information most often when the odds of making an error were the greatest. In Experiment 3, subjects searched for information more when the reward was doubled in value. In Experiment 4, adult subjects adapted to risk/benefit trade-offs in their searching behavior. In every experiment, subjects sought information more often when they needed it than when they already knew the solution to the problem. Therefore, the current research suggests that information-seeking behavior in orangutans shows a sophisticated level of flexibility, comparable to that seen in human children, as they appear to "play the odds" when making the decision to seek information or not.