Do capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) use tokens as symbols?

In the absence of language, the comprehension of symbols is difficult to demonstrate. Tokens can be considered symbols since they arbitrarily stand for something else without having any iconic relation to their referent. We assessed whether capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) can use tokens as symbols to represent and combine quantities. Our paradigm involved choices between various combinations of tokens A and B, worth one and three rewards, respectively. Pay-off maximization required the assessment of the value of each offer by (i) estimating token numerousness, (ii) representing what each token stands for and (iii) making simple computations. When one token B was presented against one to five tokens A (experiment 1), four out of ten capuchins relied on a flexible strategy that allowed to maximize their payoff, i. e. they preferred one token B against one and two tokens A, and they preferred four or five tokens A against one token B. Moreover, when two tokens B were presented against three to six tokens A (experiment 2), two out of six capuchins performed summation over representation of quantities. These findings suggest that capuchins can use tokens as symbols to flexibly combine quantities.

Publication type: 
Author or Creator: 
Addessi E
Crescimbene L
Visalberghi E
Royal Society., London, Regno Unito
Proceedings - Royal Society. Biological sciences (Print) 274 (2007): 2579–2585. doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.0726
info:cnr-pdr/source/autori:Addessi E; Crescimbene L; Visalberghi E/titolo:Do capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) use tokens as symbols?/doi:10.1098/rspb.2007.0726/rivista:Proceedings - Royal Society. Biological sciences (Print)/anno:2007/pagina_da:2579/pagina
Resource Identifier:
ISTC Author: 
Elsa Addessi's picture
Real name: