Effects of spatial training on transitive inference performance in humans and rhesus monkeys

J Exp Psychol Anim Learn Cogn. 2014 Oct;40(4):477-89. doi: 10.1037/xan0000038. Epub 2014 Jul 28.


It is often suggested that transitive inference (TI; if A > B and B > C, then A > C) involves mentally representing overlapping pairs of stimuli in a spatial series. However, there is little direct evidence to unequivocally determine the role of spatial representation in TI. We tested whether humans and rhesus monkeys use spatial representations in TI by training them to organize 7 images in a vertical spatial array. Then, we presented subjects with a TI task using these same images. The implied TI order was either congruent or incongruent with the order of the trained spatial array. Humans in the congruent condition learned premise pairs more quickly, and were faster and more accurate in critical probe tests, suggesting that the spatial arrangement of images learned during spatial training influenced subsequent TI performance. Monkeys first trained in the congruent condition also showed higher test trial accuracy when the spatial and inferred orders were congruent. These results directly support the hypothesis that humans solve TI problems by spatial organization, and suggest that this cognitive mechanism for inference may have ancient evolutionary roots.

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

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Spatial Learning / physiology*
  • Spatial Memory / physiology*
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult