Training nonhuman primates (NHPs) to perform cognitive tasks is essential for many neuroscientific investigations, yet laboratory training is a time-consuming process with inherent limitations. Habituating NHPs to the laboratory staff and experimental equipment can take months before NHPs are ready to proceed to the primary tasks. Laboratory training also necessarily separates NHPs from their home-room social group and typically involves some form of restraint or limited mobility, and data collection is often limited to a few hours per day so that multiple NHPs can be trained on the same equipment. Consequently, it can often take a year to train NHPs on complex cognitive tasks. To overcome these issues, we developed a low-cost, open-source, wireless touchscreen training system that can be installed in the home-room environment. The automated device can run continuously all day, including over weekends, without experimenter intervention. The system utilizes real-time facial recognition to initiate subject-specific tasks and provide accurate data logging, without the need for implanted microchips or separation of the NHPs. The system allows NHPs to select their preferred reward on each trial and to work when and for as long as they desire, and it can analyze task performance in real time and adapt the task parameters in order to expedite training. We demonstrate that NHPs consistently use this system on a daily basis to quickly learn complex behavioral tasks. The system therefore addresses many of the welfare and experimental limitations of laboratory-based training of NHPs and provides a platform for wireless electrophysiological investigations in more naturalistic, freely moving environments.
Keywords: Animal welfare; Automated testing; Cognitive neuroscience; Facial recognition; Non-human primates.