Are monkeys able to plan for future exchange?

Anim Cogn. 2012 Sep;15(5):783-95. doi: 10.1007/s10071-012-0502-1. Epub 2012 Apr 25.


Whether or not non-human animals can plan for the future is a hotly debated issue. We investigate this question further and use a planning-to-exchange task to study future planning in the cooperative domain in two species of monkeys: the brown capuchin (Cebus apella) and the Tonkean macaque (Macaca tonkeana). The rationale required subjects to plan for a future opportunity to exchange tokens for food by collecting tokens several minutes in advance. Subjects who successfully planned for the exchange task were expected to select suitable tokens during a collection period (5/10 min), save them for a fixed period of time (20/30 min), then take them into an adjacent compartment and exchange them for food with an experimenter. Monkeys mostly failed to transport tokens when entering the testing compartment; hence, they do not seem able to plan for a future exchange with a human partner. Three subjects did however manage to solve the task several times, albeit at very low rates. They brought the correct version of three possible token types, but rarely transported more than one suitable token at a time. Given that the frequency of token manipulation predicted transport, success might have occurred by chance. This was not the case, however, since in most cases subjects were not already holding the token in their hands before they entered the testing compartment. Instead, these results may reflect subjects' strengths and weaknesses in their time-related comprehension of the task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticipation, Psychological*
  • Cebus / psychology*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Comprehension
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Learning
  • Macaca / psychology*
  • Male
  • Token Economy