Monkeys demonstrate self-awareness in computer game

Feb 22, 2011 by Lin Edwards report
Barbary Macaques (Macaca sylvanus) at a monkeys park in Algeria

(PhysOrg.com) -- It has been widely assumed that only humans are aware of their own thinking, but a new study in macaques by US scientists shows some monkeys are also self-aware.

The study was carried out by Professor John David Smith of the Department of Psychology at the State University of New York and Georgia State University’s Dr Michael Beran, and the results were presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Washington DC, at a session organized by the European Science Foundation.

The macaques were taught to decide if the density of a small box on a computer screen was either sparse (S) or dense (D). If they used the joystick to move the box to the correct letter a treat was dispensed, while if they made the incorrect choice they got no treat and the game paused. They could avoid the pause in the game if they instead moved the box to a third option, a question mark, if they were unsure of the density of the box.

The results showed the monkeys preferred to pass and move on by selecting the question mark if they were unsure of the correct answer. This option avoided the pause and allowed them to get to the next treat more quickly but did not result in a treat.

Other studies have shown that human subjects also use the pass option if presented with similar problems they find too difficult.

The results suggest the macaques, which are Old World monkeys, understood when they were uncertain and therefore liable to make an incorrect choice and were aware they did not know the answer. When capuchins, which are New World , were given the same task they did not take the pass option.

Professor Smith said it is not certain if this kind of thinking ability emerged only once and only in the Old World primates, the line which leads to humans and apes, but that the ability of humans to be aware of our own thinking was “central to every aspect of our comprehension and learning.”

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User comments : 20

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epsi00
4.2 / 5 (11) Feb 22, 2011
We start with an assumption that is not proven or grounded in facts, that animals are not self aware, then we take years to prove exactly the opposite. The real question here is not " are animals self aware " but is or should be " how do we show beyond any doubt that animals are self aware ".
We are not alone or unique. And nature ( or evolution ) does not provide you with tools ( read a brain as complex as ours ) just for fun. If it is there, it is because it is needed.
antialias
4.4 / 5 (8) Feb 22, 2011
"We start with an assumption that is not proven or grounded in facts, "

Which is not the scientific way. But then again: that assumption never originated with scientific minds in the first place.

Sometimes science has to be called upon to disprove the obvious false assumptions of cretins (and even then they mostly won't believe it).
panorama
5 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011
I can't seem to find the article I read, but I remember something about self-awareness tests involving elephants. It was a very simple test, the researchers made a red mark on the elephats forehead and then showed it a mirror. The elephants would see the reflection and realize it was their own by touching the mark on their head. Some of them even used the mirror to look at their teeth. This is pretty interesting research.

edit: found the article htDELETEtp://www.livescience.com/4272-elephant-awareness-mirrors-humans.html
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 22, 2011
Both assumptions, that animals are self-aware and not are equally baseless. Assuming that they are and then trying to prove the opposite would be anthropomorphization, or thinking that because we think, everything else must.

There were times in history, during the middle ages for example, when animals were considered in this manner and pigs and roosters and horses were even put on trials just like people. Many cultures have considered animals to posess a spirit or a mind of some kind.

The scientific approach is to admit that we simply don't know, and then for each individual case, prove one or the other until we find a pattern that explains what makes certain animals aware and others not.
Eikka
5 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011
Btw. this article isn't very clear on terminology.

Awareness of self is one thing, but what they're talking about is metacognition - the awareness of your own awareness.
epsi00
2 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011
... or thinking that because we think, everything else must...


if we think with our brain and animals have brain, then it follows ( to me at least ) that animals think too. Nature ( evolution ) would not have bothered to give animals a brain ( expensive in terms of energy, up keep etc...) for decor only. If thinking is defined as processing information, from external and internal sources, then animals do think simply because they have a brain and they are as capable as us to process that information, sometime better than us.
Suppose your dog does not think. Then he/she would not know if he is hungry or not. If he/she did not know, then he/she would not stop eating or asking for food. We only eat when we know we are hungry and we only stop ( provided we have plenty of food ) when we know we are full. And we don't know we are full by checking our weight or sending a tiny camera in our stomach. We know because our brain tells us.

And that's just one simple example.
seb
5 / 5 (5) Feb 22, 2011
Thing is I would argue that many humans are not "self-aware" either, or very barely so, and mostly operate on instinct and learned behavior.

I don't think it's as clear cut as saying "this species is aware, that species is not".

Eikka
3.7 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2011

if we think with our brain and animals have brain, then it follows ( to me at least ) that animals think too.


We have hands, the chimps have hands, we build clocks with our hands, therefore it follows that chimps build clocks.

See why it doesn't make any sense?
kaasinees
not rated yet Feb 22, 2011
Who says jellyfish or worms cant think? They dont have brains.
impZ
1 / 5 (8) Feb 22, 2011
But they all have a spirit . And recent medical advancement shows that humans "thought" is actualy more on the spirit side as well . Simply put we do not know ****. But strangely governments made such knowledge illegal , and in stead left us whit monkey bussines . lol
panorama
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2011
But they all have a spirit . And recent medical advancement shows that humans "thought" is actualy more on the spirit side as well . Simply put we do not know ****. But strangely governments made such knowledge illegal , and in stead left us whit monkey bussines . lol

Recent medical advancement eh? How about a source for that? Also, on a similar topic, I am the owner of three "spirits" or "souls" as some would call them. Know of any way I can cash those in?
epsi00
2.8 / 5 (4) Feb 22, 2011

if we think with our brain and animals have brain, then it follows ( to me at least ) that animals think too.


We have hands, the chimps have hands, we build clocks with our hands, therefore it follows that chimps build clocks.

See why it doesn't make any sense?


Give me just one example where nature provided an animal with an organ as complex as the brain for decor only.
We think with our brain so if animals have brains then they must think. What other function does a brain have?

And the example about building clocks with our hands is ridiculous. We build the clocks first in our brain then we use a tool called a hand to create a "concrete" or a physical clock, the whole process is directed by the brain from beginning to end.

Now if animals had a use for clocks, they will build them. The fact that they don't bother building clocks is because they have no use for them.

Birds build complex nests and because we don't build nests it does not follow that...
TehDog
5 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2011
Whenever I read about self-awareness in non-humans I think of Alex the african grey parrot.
Then there's this video
ht[BLEH]tp://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/tech/2010/11/22/ctw.kaye.dolphin.intelligence.cnn.html
Watching those dolphins in front of a mirror didn't just give a lot of food for thought, it made me laugh.
I keep imagine them saying things like
"I can see my tongue!! Is my nose really that big? Look at me, I can swim backwards!"

MediocreSmoke
1 / 5 (1) Feb 22, 2011
We start with an assumption that is not proven or grounded in facts, that animals are not self aware, then we take years to prove exactly the opposite.


Go look up the word assumption, and see how many facts making one involves. Science is about forming a theory and then testing it to prove or disprove it. Nature also actually does provide tools that we don't use, i.e. 90% of our brain, our tailbone, appendix, etc. Thank god they don't let idiots like you be scientists
epsi00
5 / 5 (3) Feb 22, 2011
Go look up the word assumption, and see how many facts making one involves. Science is about forming a theory and then testing it to prove or disprove it. Nature also actually does provide tools that we don't use, i.e. 90% of our brain, our tailbone, appendix, etc. Thank god they don't let idiots like you be scientists


You are just repeating a stupid assumption about humans not using 90% of their brain made in the last century or before. Maybe in your case it's true but you can't generalize to the whole population from what we see in a single moron.

snu
not rated yet Feb 23, 2011

"...the results were presented at the Advancing Science Serving Society (AAAS) meeting in Washington DC..."

How does 'Advancing Science Serving Society' become 'AAAS'?
rab96
not rated yet Feb 24, 2011
Here is a simple experiment that anyone can reproduce: visit a slaugher house and observe how self-aware the animals are.
trekgeek1
not rated yet Feb 26, 2011
How do they know that the monkeys were unsure? To me, it seems that they gave them three options; Dense, sparse, medium. Perhaps the monkeys were not unsure, but merely determined that some boxes were better suited to the third category of "question mark". Or merely process of elimination. "It's not dense, it's not sparse, therefore it can only logically be this third option".
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
Give me just one example where nature provided an animal with an organ as complex as the brain for decor only.
We think with our brain so if animals have brains then they must think. What other function does a brain have?


You fail to understand the analogy. Just like a chimp with his hands can't build a clock like we can, some animals with a brain can't think with their brains like we can.

It depends on how you define 'think'. If you're content in saying that an action-reaction system is thinking, then yes, all animals with a brain do think. Although, so does your television.
Eikka
not rated yet Feb 27, 2011
How do they know that the monkeys were unsure? To me, it seems that they gave them three options; Dense, sparse, medium.


Because the third option didn't give a reward.

A creature that operates on immediate feedback learns that the first two options are the ones that give you results, and the third one gives you nothing. If you keep pushing it, all you get is new questions.

However, since there was a time punishment involved in pressing the wrong answer, pressing the third button could have been simply a learned response to a particular situation: whenever the pictures looked the same, there was a great possibility to recieve a punishment, which could be avoided by pressing the third button.

Therefore, a simple rule: If AB press B, if BA press A, if A=B press C. The first two recieve a prize, the third avoids a punishment.