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Anim Cogn. 2014 May;17(3):689-700. doi: 10.1007/s10071-013-0700-5. Epub 2013 Oct 22.

Capuchins' (Cebus apella) sensitivity to others' goal-directed actions in a helping context.

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Psychology Department, Yale University, 2 Hillhouse Avenue, New Haven, CT, 06511, USA,


As humans, our ability to help others effectively is at least in part dependent upon our capacity to infer others' goals in a variety of different contexts. Several species of nonhuman primate have demonstrated that they will also help others in some relatively simple situations, but it is not always clear whether this helping is based on an understanding of another agent's goals. Although the results of a number of different studies support the hypothesis that chimpanzees represent others' goals in various helping contexts and are sensitive to these goals when actually helping others, less work has addressed whether more distantly related species actively represent goals when helping. To explore the cognitive mechanisms underlying helping behaviors in species less closely related to humans, we tested whether a species of New World monkey-the brown capuchin (Cebus apella)-would provide an experimenter with a desired out-of-reach object more often than an alternative object when the experimenter attempted to obtain the former object only. We found that capuchins reliably helped by providing the experimenter's goal object (Experiment 1) and that explanations based on the use of several less sophisticated strategies did not account for the overall pattern of data (Experiments 2-4). Results are thus consistent with the hypothesis that capuchins help others based on an understanding of their goals although more work is needed to address the possibility that capuchins may be responding to gestural and postural factors alone.

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