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Cognition. 1997 Jan;62(1):75-97.

The uncertain response in humans and animals.

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Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo, Amherst 14260, USA.
GA St U, Atlanta


There has been no comparative psychological study of uncertainty processes. Accordingly, the present experiments asked whether animals, like humans, escape adaptively when they are uncertain. Human and animal observers were given two primary responses in a visual discrimination task, and the opportunity to escape from some trials into easier ones. In one psychophysical task (using a threshold paradigm), humans escaped selectively the difficult trials that left them uncertain of the stimulus. Two rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) also showed this pattern. In a second psychophysical task (using the method of constant stimuli), some humans showed this pattern but one escaped infrequently and nonoptimally. Monkeys showed equivalent individual differences. The data suggest that escapes by humans and monkeys are interesting cognitive analogs and may reflect controlled decisional processes prompted by the perceptual ambiguity at threshold.

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