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Recognition and categorization of biologically significant objects by rhesus monkeys



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L R Santos et al Cognition 82 2001 127 155 127 COGNITION Cognition 82 2001 127 155 www elsevier com locate cognit Recognition and categorization of biologically significant objects by rhesus monkeys Macaca mulatta the domain of food Laurie R Santos a Marc D Hauser a b Elizabeth S Spelke a a Department of Psychology Harvard University 33 Kirkland Street Cambridge MA 02138 USA b Program in Neuroscience Harvard University Cambridge MA 02138 USA Received 4 May 2000 received in revised form 6 June 2000 accepted 15 June 2001 Abstract To survive organisms must be able to identify edible objects However we know relatively little about how humans and other species distinguish food items from non food items We tested the abilities of semi free ranging rhesus monkeys Macaca mulatta to learn rapidly that a novel object was edible and to generalize their learning to other objects in a spontaneous choice task Adult monkeys watched as a human experimenter first pretended to eat one of two novel objects and then placed replicas of the objects at widely separated locations Monkeys selectively approached the object that the experimenter had previously eaten exhibiting a rapidly induced preference for the apparently edible object In further experiments in which the same objects were used as tools or were manipulated at the face but not eaten we fail to observe an approach bias providing evidence that the monkeys pattern of approach in the earlier experiments was specific to objects that were eaten Subsequent experiments tested how monkeys generalized their preference for an edible object by first allowing them to watch a human experimenter eat one of two objects and then presenting them with new objects composed of the same substance but differing from the original edible object in shape or color Monkeys ignored changes in the shape of the object and generalized from one edible object to another on the basis of color in conjunction with other substance properties Finally we extended



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