Chimpanzees are capable of metacognition, or thinking about one’s own thinking, and can adjust their behavior accordingly, researchers at Georgia State University, Agnes Scott College, Wofford College and the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York have discovered. Their findings, published June 6 in the journal Cognition, suggest chimpanzees share with humans the capacity for metacognitive monitoring, which reflects a form of cognitive control that underlies intelligent decision-making across species.
In the study, three chimpanzees were given a series of computerized tests of their memory. The researchers could manipulate how strong or weak the chimpanzees’ memories would be when they completed the test by varying the kinds of things they needed to remember and how long they needed to remember them. After each memory test, there was a short delay before the computer program gave feedback about whether the answer given by the chimpanzees was correct or incorrect. A few seconds later, if the answer was correct, a food reward was delivered. The critical aspect of this study was that rewards were delivered away from where the chimpanzees worked on the memory test. If the chimpanzees had not moved to that location when rewards were delivered, the rewards were lost and could not be recovered. This meant the chimpanzees had two options after giving an answer to the memory test. They could either wait to hear whether the answer was correct or incorrect, and if correct, they were forced to hurry to the reward delivery location. Or, they could move to the reward location early before any feedback was provided.