Cognitive mechanisms for transitive inference performance in rhesus monkeys: measuring the influence of associative strength and inferred order

J Exp Psychol Anim Behav Process. 2012 Oct;38(4):331-45. doi: 10.1037/a0030306.


If Ben is taller than Emily and Emily is taller than Dina, one can infer that Ben is taller than Dina. This process of inferring relations between stimuli based on shared relations with other stimuli is called transitive inference (TI). Many species solve TI tasks in which they learn pairs of overlapping stimulus discriminations (A+B-, B+C-, etc.) and are tested with non-adjacent novel test pairings (BD). When relations between stimuli are determined by reinforcement (A is reinforced when paired with B, B when paired with C), performance can be controlled by the associative values of individual stimuli or by logical inference. In Experiment 1 rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) chose the higher ranked item on non-adjacent test trials after training on a 7-image TI task. In Experiment 2 we measured the associative values of 7 TI images and found that these values did not correlate with choice in TI tests. In Experiment 3 large experimental manipulations of the associative value of images did influence performance in some TI test pairings, but performance on other pairs was consistent with the implied order. In Experiment 4 monkeys linked two previously learned 7-item lists into one 14-item list after training with a single linking pair. Linking cannot be explained by associative values. Associative value can control choice in TI tests in at least some extreme circumstances. Implied order better explains most TI choices in monkeys, and is a more viable mechanism for TI of social dominance, which has been observed in birds and fish.

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

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Attention
  • Choice Behavior
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Discrimination, Psychological / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Problem Solving / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology