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J Exp Psychol Gen. 1997 Jun;126(2):147-64.

Uncertain responses by humans and rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) in a psychophysical same-different task.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Buffalo 14260, USA.
  • 2GA St U, Atlanta


The authors asked whether animals, like humans, use an uncertain response adaptively to escape indeterminate stimulus relations. Humans and monkeys were placed in a same-different task, known to be challenging for animals. Its difficulty was increased further by reducing the size of the stimulus differences, thereby making many same and different trials difficult to tell apart. Monkeys do escape selectively from these threshold trials, even while coping with 7 absolute stimulus levels concurrently. Monkeys even adjust their response strategies on short time scales according to the local task conditions. Signal-detection and optimality analyses confirm the similarity of humans' and animals' performances. Whereas associative interpretations account poorly for these results, an intuitive uncertainty construct does so easily. The authors discuss the cognitive processes that allow uncertainty's adaptive use and recommend further comparative studies of metacognition.

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