Great apes can plan for the future

June 19th, 2008 - 12:26 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, June 19 (ANI): Just like humans, apes also have the capabilities of planning for their future, according to a Swedish study.

Mathias and Helena Osvath of Lund University Cognitive Science claim to be the first researchers to uncover conclusive evidence that non-human species can use self-control, and imagine future events.

A research article in the journal Animal Cognition highlights the fact that the complex skill of future planning, which is commonly believed to be exclusive to humans, has not been conclusively established in any other living primate spices to date.

The article also points out that two mental capacities self control, which means the suppression of immediate drives in favour of delayed rewards; and mental time travel, which means the detached mental experience of a past or future event facilitate planning for future needs in humans.

Mathias and Helena Osvath conducted four experiments to investigate whether chimpanzees and orang-utans could show the same two mental capacities.

The researchers showed two female chimpanzees and one male orang-utan a hose, and how to use it to extract fruit soup.

The animals were then tempted with their favourite fruit alongside the hose to test their ability to suppress the choice of the immediate reward (favourite fruit) in favour of a tool (the hose) that would lead to a larger reward 70 minutes later on (the fruit soup).

Choosing the hose more frequently than their favourite fruit, the apes apparently indicated that they were capable of making choices in favour of future needs, even when they directly competed with an immediate reward, according to the researchers.

The researchers later incorporated in their study new tools that the apes had not encountered before, which included one new functional tool that would work in a similar way to the hose, and two distractor objects.

Despite such changes, the apes were found to consciously choosing the new functional tool more often, and taking it to the reward room where they used it appropriately.

According to the researchers, it was an indication that the apes selected the tool based on their functional properties, which in turn suggested that the animals were pre-experiencing a future even visualizing the use of the new tool to extract the fruit soup.

One of the decisive experiments excluded associative learning as an explanation of the results.

Associative learning has been suggested to account for the findings in previous planning studies on animals (corvids and great apes), and thus the previous studies have not been generally accepted as evidence for non-human planning.

Based on their observations, the authors of the study have come to the conclusion that the great apes engage in planning for the future.

The results of this study entail that capacities central to humans evolved much earlier than previously believed, they say. (ANI)

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