Monkey Business

Another interesting paper from the AAAs meeting was given by Dr. Smith, SUNY at Buffalo. In this case the subjects were monkeys, both Old World and New World, namely Macaques and Capuchins respectively. They were playing a computer game for goodies. The task was simple enough for me to carry out. It consisted of assessing the density of a screen image as either sparse and clicking ‘S’ or dense and clicking ‘D’. Easy!

 The kicker was if they got it wrong, the computer hung and they were wasting gaming time. Now in this day and age, instant gratification taking to long, a fact that we are made maddeningly aware every time we reboot our computers. Well, in true game show fashion, Dr. Smith gave our primate friends a pass option button, ‘?’. Hitting this moved the game rapidly forward with no loss in goodie-getting time.

The Macaques made good use of this option indicating that they were sometimes victims of self doubt and unable to make a choice, reminiscent of most of us as we stare at our tax forms and wondering where to start. Wouldn’t we all welcome a pass option on those questions? Capuchins, however, never doubted their choice. In their case, there were only known knowns, that they knew they knew even when they didn’t, unlike the Macaques who also had known unknowns when they knew they didn’t know. I guess worrying about unknown unknowns is something reserved for other primate species.

It isn’t only monkeys that rival us in decision-making. Prof. Morton of U of Cambridge has been watching sheep which were visiting from the Welsh mountains, make executive decisions. Food was used as the training tool, just as it is used for monkeys, mice and us men. Colored buckets and colored shapes were used in the sheep’s mid-term tests.

Other exciting sheep information noted was that sheep can find their way home as they know where they’ve been and that they can recognize other sheep just by looking at mug shots. Not only do sheep not all look the same to each other, but neither do humans all look the same. They know who they’re looking at and if your expression is nice or nasty. We would be in trouble if they were enfranchised.

One Response so far.

  1. jazgal says:

    And yet, we persist in thinking that we know that we know!

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