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Anim Cogn. 2010 Jan;13(1):87-92. doi: 10.1007/s10071-009-0248-6. Epub 2009 Jun 11.

Tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) show understanding of human attentional states when requesting food held by a human.

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Primate Research Institute, Kyoto University, Kanrin 41-2, Inuyama, Aichi 484-8506, Japan.


Researchers have investigated to what extent non-human primates understand others' attentional states, as this ability is considered an important prerequisite for theory of mind. However, previous studies using food requesting tasks have failed to show that non-human primates attribute perception to others as a function of their attentional states. One possible reason is that food requesting tasks may require subjects not only to take into account an experimenter's attentional state but also to direct it toward the food. The present study tested tufted capuchin monkeys' (Cebus apella) understanding of others' attentional states in a food requesting task. In the first situation, monkeys were required only to attract an experimenter's attention. In the second situation, the monkeys were required to both attract the experimenter's attention and direct it toward food on a table. The results revealed that capuchin monkeys showed evidence of understanding the experimenter's attentional variations only in the former condition. This suggests that previous tasks, requiring referential gestures, lacking in most non-human primates, failed to reveal sensitivity to human attentional states because the subjects might not have understood the requesting situation. In conclusion, capuchin monkeys can understand variations in others' attentional states, although this ability appears limited compared to what is seen in humans.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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