Positional encoding in cotton-top tamarins (Saguinus oedipus)

Anim Cogn. 2019 Sep;22(5):825-838. doi: 10.1007/s10071-019-01277-y. Epub 2019 Jul 1.


Strategies used in artificial grammar learning can shed light into the abilities of different species to extract regularities from the environment. In the A(X)nB rule, A and B items are linked, but assigned to different positional categories and separated by distractor items. Open questions are how widespread is the ability to extract positional regularities from A(X)nB patterns, which strategies are used to encode positional regularities and whether individuals exhibit preferences for absolute or relative position encoding. We used visual arrays to investigate whether cotton-top tamarins (Saguinusoedipus) can learn this rule and which strategies they use. After training on a subset of exemplars, two of the tested monkeys successfully generalized to novel combinations. These tamarins discriminated between categories of tokens with different properties (A, B, X) and detected a positional relationship between non-adjacent items even in the presence of novel distractors. The pattern of errors revealed that successful subjects used visual similarity with training stimuli to solve the task and that successful tamarins extracted the relative position of As and Bs rather than their absolute position, similarly to what has been observed in other species. Relative position encoding appears to be favoured in different tasks and taxa. Generalization, though, was incomplete, since we observed a failure with items that during training had always been presented in reinforced arrays, showing the limitations in grasping the underlying positional rule. These results suggest the use of local strategies in the extraction of positional rules in cotton-top tamarins.

Keywords: Absolute position; Artificial grammar learning; Cotton-top tamarins; Non-adjacent dependency; Positional rule; Relative position; Rule learning.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Learning*
  • Male
  • Movement
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Saguinus*