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Psychol Sci. 2013 May;24(5):660-6. doi: 10.1177/0956797612458936. Epub 2013 Mar 18.

Language-trained chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) name what they have seen but look first at what they have not seen.

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  • 1Language Research Center, Georgia State University. Atlanta, GA 30302, USA.


Metacognition can be defined as knowing what one knows, and the question of whether nonhuman animals are metacognitive has driven an intense debate. We tested 3 language-trained chimpanzees in an information-seeking task in which the identity of a food item was the critical piece of information needed to obtain the food. The chimpanzees could either report the identity of the food immediately or first check a container in which the food had been hidden. In two experiments, the chimpanzees were significantly more likely to visit the container first on trials in which they could not know its contents but were more likely to just name the food item without looking into the container on trials in which they had seen its contents. Thus, chimpanzees showed efficient information-seeking behavior that suggested they knew what they had or had not already seen when it was time to name a hidden item.


Pan troglodytes; chimpanzees; comparative psychology; decision making; information seeking; metacognition; problem solving

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