Picture recognition of food by macaques (Macaca silenus)
Pictorial representations of three-dimensional objects are often used to investigate animal cognitive abilities; however, investigators rarely evaluate whether the animals conceptualize the two-dimensional image as the object it is intended to represent. We tested for picture recognition in lion-tailed macaques by presenting five monkeys with digitized images of familiar foods on a touch screen. Monkeys viewed images of two different foods and learned that they would receive a piece of the one they touched first. After demonstrating that they would reliably select images of their preferred foods on one set of foods, animals were transferred to images of a second set of familiar foods. We assumed that if the monkeys recognized the images, they would spontaneously select images of their preferred foods on the second set of foods. Three monkeys selected images of their preferred foods significantly more often than chance on their first transfer session. In an additional test of the monkeys' picture recognition abilities, animals were presented with pairs of food images containing a medium-preference food paired with either a high-preference food or a low-preference food. The same three monkeys selected the medium-preference foods significantly more often when they were paired with low-preference foods and significantly less often when those same foods were paired with high-preference foods. Our novel design provided convincing evidence that macaques recognized the content of two-dimensional images on a touch screen. Results also suggested that the animals understood the connection between the two-dimensional images and the three-dimensional objects they represented.