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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Exploring Potential Mechanisms Underlying the Lack of Uncertainty Monitoring in Capuchin Monkeys


In a widely used animal-metacognition paradigm, monkeys are positively reinforced with food for correct classifications of stimuli as sparse or dense and punished with timeouts for incorrect responses, but they also have access to an “uncertainty” response that moves them to the next trial without either of these forms of feedback. Rhesus monkeys use this uncertainty response most often for trials on which they are at greatest risk for making an error, suggesting that they are monitoring their ability to make these classifications. Capuchin monkeys do not succeed to the same degree on these tasks—conceivably as a result of differential contingencies in place between the sparse/dense responses (food delivery or timeout) and the uncertainty response (avoidance of a timeout but also no chance for food reward).  Here, we used a novel variation of this task in which the outcomes of the three response classes (sparse, dense, uncertain) were functionally equivalent. All responses simply determined the delay interval before presentation of a second task (matching-to-sample), and that task yielded potential food rewards.  Overall, capuchin monkeys used the dense and sparse responses appropriately, including some animals that had no prior experience in performing this classification task.  However, none used the uncertainty response appropriately even when it was placed on the same contingency plane as the dense and sparse responses.  This suggests that the failure of capuchin monkeys to use an uncertainty response is not the result of that response producing a qualitatively different outcome compared to the dense and sparse responses.

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