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Anim Cogn. 2012 Jul;15(4):539-48. doi: 10.1007/s10071-012-0482-1. Epub 2012 Mar 21.

Delaying gratification for food and tokens in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): when quantity is salient, symbolic stimuli do not improve performance.

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Language Research Center, Georgia State University, Atlanta, GA, USA.


Capuchin monkeys have been tested for the capacity to delay gratification for accumulating rewards in recent studies and have exhibited variable results. Meanwhile, chimpanzees have consistently excelled at this task. However, neither species have ever been tested at accumulating symbolic tokens instead of food items, even though previous reports indicate that tokens sometimes facilitate performance in other self-control tasks. Thus, in the present study, we tested capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees for their capacity to delay gratification in a delay maintenance task, in which an experimenter presented items, one at a time, to within reach of an animal for as long as the animal refrained from taking them. In Experiment 1, we assessed how long capuchin monkeys could accumulate items in the delay maintenance task when items were food rewards or tokens exchangeable for food rewards. Monkeys accumulated more food rewards than they did tokens. In Experiment 2, we tested capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees in a similar accumulation test. Whereas capuchins again accumulated more food than tokens, all chimpanzees but one showed no difference in performance in the two conditions. These findings provide additional evidence that chimpanzees exhibit greater self-control capacity in this task than do capuchin monkeys and indicate that symbolic stimuli fail to facilitate delay maintenance when they do not abstract away from the quantitative dimension of the task. This is consistent with previous findings on the effects of symbols on self-control and illuminates what makes accumulation a particularly challenging task.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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