Orangutans (Pongo abelii) Seek Information About Tool Functionality in a Metacognition Tubes Task

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Abstract

Nonhuman primates appear to engage in metacognition by knowing when they need to search for relevant information for solving the tubes task. The task involves presenting subjects with a number of tubes with only 1 having food hidden inside. Before choosing, subjects look inside the tubes more often when they do not know which 1 contains the food (hidden trials) compared to when they do know this information (visible trials). It is argued, however, that nonmetacognitive general food searching strategies can explain this looking behavior. To address this issue, 3 orangutans were tested with a novel tubes task in which they were only required to seek information about tool functionality. The results showed that subjects had the ability to search for tool functionality but no subject looked significantly more in hidden trials compared to visible trials. Subjects were retested with the same condition and given a second condition in which the cost of a wrong choice was increased. In both conditions, 2 subjects looked significantly more inside the hidden trials compared to the visible trials. Subjects were also tested with the traditional tubes task in which food was hidden inside 1 tube. All subjects looked inside the tubes significantly more in the hidden trials compared to the visible trials. However, subjects conducted more excessive looks compared to when looking for tool functionality. I suggest that excessive searches may be caused by food being a strong stimulus and discuss the relevance of this possibility for metacognitive research involving the tubes task.

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