Spontaneous metacognition in rhesus monkeys

Rosati, A. G., & Santos, L. R. (2016). Spontaneous metacognition in rhesus monkeys. Psychological Science , 27, 1181 –1191.

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Metacognition is the ability to think about thinking. Although monitoring and controlling one’s knowledge is a key feature of human cognition, its evolutionary origins are debated. In the current study, we examined whether rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta; N = 120) could make metacognitive inferences in a one-shot decision. Each monkey experienced one of four conditions, observing a human appearing to hide a food reward in an apparatus consisting of either one or two tubes. The monkeys tended to search the correct location when they observed this baiting event, but engaged in information seeking—by peering into a center location where they could check both potential hiding spots—if their view had been occluded and information seeking was possible. The monkeys only occasionally approached the center when information seeking was not possible. These results show that monkeys spontaneously use information about their own knowledge states to solve naturalistic foraging problems, and thus provide the first evidence that nonhumans exhibit information-seeking responses in situations with which they have no prior experience.