Can wild common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) solve the parallel strings task?

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Patterned string tasks are a test of perceptual capacity and the understanding of means-end connections. Primates can solve complex forms of this task in laboratories. However, this may not indicate the level of such cognition that is commonly employed in the wild, where decision-making time is often short and distractions such as predator avoidance and competition between conspecifics are often prevalent. The current study tests whether wild common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) can successfully complete the simplest form of the patterned string task, parallel strings, while in their natural environment. Although 12 out of 13 marmosets could successfully complete the task, in previous laboratory-based studies on primates, the errors at this task by all primate species tested were consistently lower than in the present study. This is probably explained by the added difficulties imposed by the natural setting of the task in the present study, exemplified by a significant increase in observed vigilance behaviour by subject animals prior to attempts at the task that were unsuccessful. The undertaking of such tasks by common marmosets in situ probably provides a more reasonable representation of the levels of cognitive capacity expressed by this species in the wild than do laboratory-based studies of the task.

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