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Anim Cogn. 2009 Jul;12(4):575-85. doi: 10.1007/s10071-009-0217-0. Epub 2009 Feb 26.

Metamemory in tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella).

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Department of Psychology, Graduate School of Letters, Kyoto University, Yoshida-honmachi, Sakyo, Kyoto, 606-8501, Japan.


Whereas evidence for metacognition by nonhuman primates has been obtained in great apes and old world monkeys, it is weaker in new world monkeys. For instance, capuchin monkeys may fail to recognize their own knowledge of the location of invisible bait. In the present study, we tested whether tufted capuchin monkeys would flexibly change their behavior in a delayed matching-to-sample (DMTS) test depending upon the strength of their memory trace of the sample. In Experiment 1, two monkeys were tested on a modified 9-alternative DMTS task with various delays on a computerized display. In some trials, the monkeys could choose whether to go for a memory test or for a simple key touch as an escape from the test. In other trials, they were forced to go for the memory test. Both monkeys escaped from the memory test more often when their matching accuracy on forced tests was lower. In one of the monkeys, the matching accuracies on chosen memory tests decreased more slowly as a function of delay length, and were higher after long delays than those on forced memory tests. This suggests that at least one capuchin monkey was able to recognize the strength of his own memory trace. Experiment 2 employed occasional no-sample tests, in which the monkeys faced the task choice without presentation of any sample for the trial. The monkey who was successful in Experiment 1 declined the memory test more often in no-sample trials than regular trials, further indicating metamemory in this individual. In Experiment 3, this successful monkey received a task, in which he was sometimes able to choose between shape MTS or texture MTS tasks. However, his matching accuracies did not differ between chosen tasks and forced tasks. Thus, the metamemory possessed by this new world monkey species may be more like a flag, showing strength of memory trace, than an elaborate representation showing details of the memory trace.

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