Great apes know they could be wrong

Mar 24, 2010
Shown here is the basic setup of the "checking inside the tubes" task. Credit: Josep Call

orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos and gorillas - realize that they can be wrong when making choices, according to Dr. Josep Call from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Dr. Call's study was just published online in Springer's journal, Animal Cognition.

In a series of three experiments, seven , eight , four and seven , from the Wolfgang Köhler Research Center at the Leipzig Zoo in Germany, were presented with two hollow tubes, one baited with a food reward, the other not. The apes were then observed as they tried to find the reward.

In the first experiment, the apes were prevented from watching the baiting but the tubes were shaken to give them auditory information about the reward's location instead. Dr. Call wanted to see if when the apes were prevented from acquiring , but offered auditory cues instead, they would be able to use the auditory information to reduce their reliance on visual searching.

In the second experiment, the apes were shown the location where the food was hidden and then at variable time delays encouraged to retrieve it. The purpose of this experiment was to see if forgetting the location would lead to the apes looking harder for it.

In the last experiment, the researcher compared the apes' response between visible and hidden baiting conditions, when the quality of the food reward varied. The author hypothesized that the apes would check more often when a high quality reward was at stake, irrespective of whether or not they had seen where it was placed.

Although the apes retrieved the reward very accurately when they had watched the baiting, Dr. Call found that they were more likely to check inside the tube before choosing when high stakes were involved, or after a longer period of time had elapsed between the baiting and the retrieval of the reward. In contrast, when the apes were provided with auditory information about the food's location, they reduced the amount of checking before choosing. According to Dr. Call, taken together, these findings show that the were aware that they could be wrong when choosing.

Dr. Call concludes: "The current results indicate that the looking response appears to be a function of at least three factors: the cost of looking inside the tube, the value of the reward and the state of the information. The combination of these three factors creates an information processing system that possesses complexity, flexibility and control, three of the features of metacognition*. These findings suggest that nonhuman animals may possess some metacognitive abilities, too."

*Metacognition: cognition about cognition, or knowing about knowing.

Explore further: Rare albino dolphin captured in Japan's 'Cove'

More information: Call J (2010). Do apes know that they could be wrong? Animal Cognition, DOI:10.1007/s10071-010-0317-x

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User comments : 18

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baudrunner
3 / 5 (6) Mar 24, 2010
Why do they fund these ridiculous experiments? The stupider those researchers assume the apes to be, the stupider they are making themselves. If animals were stupid, they would have died out long ago. If those researchers want to observe animals preparing for a wrong eventuality, they should watch a trained seal keep a beach ball balanced on its nose. I bet those researchers don't have the skills that a seal has.

jj2009
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
exactly. isn't it common knowledge that animals that make stupid choices die more than those that don't?
JayK
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 24, 2010
Why do they fund these ridiculous experiments?

Why do governments that fund the arts find increased happiness and contentment amongst their populaces? How and when did Homo Sapiens' cognition rise to its current extent?

These kinds of studies are important to the root understanding of human cognition and understanding our evolutionary roots to our cousins and other mammals. Baudrunner's anti-intellectualism is pretty poor form, I'd say.
Objectivist
not rated yet Mar 24, 2010
exactly. isn't it common knowledge that animals that make stupid choices die more than those that don't?

You don't need to be smart to survive, just adapted.
paulthebassguy
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
I think that many people underestimate the intelligence of the great apes.

I am not surprised by these results, but I would like to see some research where they perform these same experience on other animals, it would be interesting to see how predatory animals like the great cats & crocodiles behave.
baudrunner
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
JayK, you will be cited for name calling and violating the comments guidelines if you do not refrain from making personal attacks on other commentators. Please limit your comments to the topic under discussion.
JayK
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
Bring it on, baudrunner. I pointed out how your immature determination of what is science is in effect, anti-intellectualism. You don't get to determine what is eligible for grants, which sounds like that would be a good thing, just in case we want society and social awareness to actually progress.

But please, threaten me some more, it really makes my day.
ancible
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
I intellectually like you JayK, but personally I am repelled.

I am not a christian (am an atheist, in fact), but the message ascribed to Jesus rings true: I seek not to destroy my enemy, but to win him over.

I feel you are correct that baudrunner is not aware of the tangential aspects and possible benefits of such experiments, but if you don't comment to spread knowledge and have it accepted (for consideration, at least) then aren't you the same as baudrunner (who apparently has not made a study of serendipitous happenings in labs and experiments of the past)?

I will not comment on your posting style anymore, except in defense of myself. Later.
JayK
1.8 / 5 (4) Mar 25, 2010
I'm not here to make friends and win people over. I'm here to argue the merits and ideas and learn. Those that attack science and learning are useless and deserve derision, not some kind of fuzzy tolerance. People with strong opinions like baudrunner's above have made up their minds about what they believe about science and the processes.

Science in America, and in other parts of the world, is in a sorry state right now because of constant attempts at "tolerance" of those with differing views and allowing them equal footings in discussions. Evolution, AGW, particle physics and so many other areas where dissenters with no education and no capability believe their voices are equal to those that are seeking the knowledge or those that have it isn't a worthwhile tolerance anymore.

Just watch this site for derision of the "soft sciences" that occurs, if you want an even better example. Those are the ones that seem to be really indicative of the decline of public knowledge of science.
frajo
5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
Just watch this site for derision of the "soft sciences" that occurs, if you want an even better example. Those are the ones that seem to be really indicative of the decline of public knowledge of science.
Public knowledge is not the same as general knowledge. Due to the internet there are now a lot more uneducated people than before who use the new possibilities to express themselves in front of a global audience. In fact, this global aufdience is a great attractor for nutcases who in former times would be heard only in pubs and in their local environments. They are over-represented. But I don't see a decline of general knowledge.
JayK
3 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2010
Yes, my statement was too broad, frajo. I should have said the United States dominance of math and sciences (high qualifications of graduating students) is declining: http://nces.ed.go...ghts.asp

Another statistic that doesn't bode well is the number of people that understand that there isn't a debate within biology about evolution's basis. Compared to the world, the US looks like a bastion of willful ignorance.
Yellowdart
1 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2010
Dont think that really is something worthwile to talk about. Even my puppy at home is hesitant when he is confronted with options.

The difference in man is despite knowing what is the right option, he can delibrately chose the wrong.

How many apes found the food, but chose the empty tube on purpose?

All this seems to add weight to is that apes are no different than most animals, they instinctively want to chose the right option the first time.
Simonsez
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
The difference in man is despite knowing what is the right option, he can delibrately chose the wrong.
How many apes found the food, but chose the empty tube on purpose?
All this seems to add weight to is that apes are no different than most animals, they instinctively want to chose the right option the first time.

I understand the intent of your argument, but with regards to the subject at hand I think there is no basis for it. If a human is hungry or has no other desires, presented with the same option here (two objects, one with food and one empty), the human will never choose the empty tube even though he could do so deliberately. Similarly, the ape could but why would it?

A better test to prove your argument would be to hide a toy/object that has been proven via other studies to appeal to maybe 50% of apes. In this way, one could argue the ape may not want the object despite other apes wanting it in an arbitrary fashion, and therefore deliberately choose "wrong"
frajo
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
A better test to prove your argument would be to hide a toy/object that has been proven via other studies to appeal to maybe 50% of apes. In this way, one could argue the ape may not want the object despite other apes wanting it in an arbitrary fashion, and therefore deliberately choose "wrong"

Maybe some just like to play. If you don't have desires playing is just right for you.
Simonsez
not rated yet Mar 25, 2010
That is a true statement, and I could have chosen a better "test" but I am no animal (or human) psychologist to know what would be a suitable test. I was merely observing that there is no basis to say that this study lends weight to the argument that apes are just like other animals that "always make the right choice by instinct" and have no inner debate or other considerations.
Skeptic_Heretic
not rated yet Mar 26, 2010
Simon, you're incorrect in saying a human can't choose to not eat when hungry.

Tibetian monks have been able to maintain the mental focus required to simply be lit on fire and die without more than a gentle slope to the side. Many have spent days and in some rare cases weeks on hunger strikes.

I don't doubt that our animal cousins, if granted our method of reasoning, could do the same.
Yellowdart
1 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2010
The difference in man is despite knowing what is the right option, he can delibrately chose the wrong.
How many apes found the food, but chose the empty tube on purpose?
All this seems to add weight to is that apes are no different than most animals, they instinctively want to chose the right option the first time.

I understand the intent of your argument, but with regards to the subject at hand I think there is no basis for it. If a human is hungry or has no other desires, presented with the same option here (two objects, one with food and one empty), the human will never choose the empty tube even though he could do so deliberately. Similarly, the ape could but why would it?


It's called fasting or dieting. Humans do it quite often.

johanfprins
1 / 5 (2) Mar 27, 2010
If great apes are able to know when they are wrong, why can mainstream physicists not? Are they even greater apes? This will explain a lot.

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