Recent research with several species of nonhuman primates suggests sophisticated motor-planning abilities observed in human adults may be ubiquitous among primates. However, there is considerable variability in the extent to which these abilities are expressed across primate species. In the present experiment, we explore whether the variability in the expression of anticipatory motor-planning abilities may be attributed to cognitive differences (such as tool use abilities) or whether they may be due to the consequences of morphological differences (such as being able to deploy a precision grasp). We compared two species of New World monkeys that differ in their tool use abilities and manual dexterity: squirrel monkeys, Saimiri sciureus (less dexterous with little evidence for tool use) and tufted capuchins, Sapajus apella (more dexterous and known tool users). The monkeys were presented with baited cups in an untrained food extraction task. Consistent with the morphological constraint hypothesis, squirrel monkeys frequently showed second-order motor planning by inverting their grasp when picking up an inverted cup, while capuchins frequently deployed canonical upright grasping postures. Findings suggest that the lack of ability for precision grasping may elicit more consistent second-order motor planning, as the squirrel monkeys (and other species that have shown a high rate of second-order planning) have fewer means of compensating for inefficient initial postures. Thus, the interface between morphology and motor planning likely represents an important factor for understanding both the ontogenetic and phylogenetic origins of sophisticated motor-planning abilities.
Zander, Stacey L.; Weiss, Dan J.; and Judge, Peter G.. "The interface between morphology and action planning: a comparison of two species of New World monkeys." Animal Behaviour (2013) : 1251-1258.