Monkeys recall and reproduce simple shapes from memory

Curr Biol. 2011 May 10;21(9):774-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.03.044. Epub 2011 Apr 28.


If you draw from memory a picture of the front of your childhood home, you will have demonstrated recall. You could also recognize this house upon seeing it. Unlike recognition, recall demonstrates memory for things that are not present. Recall is necessary for planning and imagining, and it can increase the flexibility of navigation, social behavior, and other cognitive skills. Without recall, memory is more limited to recognition of the immediate environment. Amnesic patients are impaired on recall tests [1, 2], and recall performance often declines with aging [3]. Despite its importance, we know relatively little about nonhuman animals' ability to recall information; we lack suitable recall tests for them and depend instead on recognition tests to measure nonhuman memory. Here we report that rhesus monkeys can recall simple shapes from memory and reproduce them on a touchscreen. As in humans [4, 5], monkeys remembered less in recall than recognition tests, and their recall performance deteriorated more slowly. Transfer tests showed that monkeys used a flexible memory mechanism rather than memorizing specific actions for each shape. Observation of recall in Old World monkeys suggests that it has been adaptive for over 30 million years [6] and does not depend on language.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Biological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mental Recall / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation