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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Comparison of Sequential Learning Errors Made by Apes and Monkeys Reveals Individual but not Species Differences in Learning


Using methods comparable to those used previously to test closely-related taxa (Pan troglodytes and Macaca mulatta), our aim was to better understand how gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) and Japanese macaques (M. fuscata) learn sequences. Using a disappearing-type simultaneous chain, we trained five gorillas and eight macaques on a two-item list of colored stimuli presented via touchscreens. There was no difference across species in the number of trials required to learn the two-item list. We added a third item to the list as each subject reached criterion. We then analyzed the subjects’ first 30 trials with the three-item list and found that the rate of successfully sequencing the list varied by subject but not by species. In their first 30 trials of the three-item list, subjects selected the second item correctly only at chance, suggesting they had only encoded the first symbol when learning the two-item list. One gorilla, tested on longer sequences, showed similar responses: when first presented with a newly-lengthened list, he only selected the penultimate item at chance levels. Thus, the primates’ errors with newly-lengthened lists is suggestive of the chaining theory of learning. These results highlight similarities in list learning of these two distantly-related primate species as well as the clear intra-species variation in learning.

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