Effects of different training histories upon manufacturing a tool to solve a problem: insight in capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.)


The emergence of novel behavior is a multilayered phenomenon that comprehends distinct processes. One such process is known as insightful problem solving. “Insight” can be explained as the spontaneous interconnection of previously acquired behavioral repertoires. The objective of this study was to investigate: (1) whether capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.) do show the interconnection of repertoires, and (2) whether different performances of problem solving could be produced by different training histories. Two repertoires were independently trained: (a) joining two pieces of a tool to manufacture a new tool and (b) raking food with one tool. In the test situation, food was out of reach, and two joinable pieces of a tool, different from the ones used in training, were presented. To solve the problem, the monkeys had to join the two pieces and rake the food with the new manufactured tool. In Experiment 1, one monkey received symmetric training (equal number of sessions) of both repertoires and solved the task, but not in an insightful manner. In Experiment 2, six monkeys were divided into two groups: one group received symmetric training, and the second group had asymmetrical training of the repertoires (unequal number of sessions). Subjects from the symmetric group performed as the monkey in Experiment 1; subjects from the other group showed a sudden insightful solution of the problem. The different performances in the same problem situation can be explained in terms of the behavioral history provided to each group of subjects.

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The authors would like to thank all the staff of the Experimental School for Primates, of the Universidade Federal do Pará. We would also like to thank Juliane Rufino da Costa, Airton Icaro Gonzaga, Raphael Moura Cardoso, Romariz da Silva Barros, Paulo Delage, Briseida Resende, Maria Helena Hünziker, Olavo Galvão, Allen Neuringer and the anonymous reviewers that greatly improved the structure, presentation and discussions of the paper. This work was funded by a mastership grant (001/2008) conceded to the first author by the Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado do Pará (FAPESPA), Brazil.

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Correspondence to Hernando Borges Neves Filho.

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All procedures were approved by the local and national animal research ethics committee. All procedures performed in Experiments 1 and 2 were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institution at which the studies were conducted.

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Neves Filho, H.B., de Carvalho Neto, M.B., Taytelbaum, G.P.T. et al. Effects of different training histories upon manufacturing a tool to solve a problem: insight in capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.). Anim Cogn 19, 1151–1164 (2016) doi:10.1007/s10071-016-1022-1

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  • Interconnection of repertoires
  • Innovation
  • Creativity
  • Tool use
  • Causal reasoning
  • Learning
  • New world monkeys