Date of Thesis



Primates as a taxonomic Order have the largest brains corrected for body size in the animal kingdom. These large brains have allowed primates to evolve the capacity to demonstrate advanced cognitive processes across a wide array of abilities. Nonhuman primates are particularly adept at social learning, defined as the modification of behavior by observing the actions of others. Additionally, primates often exploit resources differently depending on their social context. In this study, capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) were tested on a cognitive task in three social contexts to determine if social context influenced their performance on the task. The three social contexts included: alone, having a dominant individual in an adjacent compartment, and having a subordinate individual in the adjacent compartment. The benefits to this design were thatthe social context was the only variable influencing performance, whereas in previous studies investigating audience effects other animals could physically and directly influence a subject's performance in an open testing situation. Based on past studies, Ipredicted that the presence of a dominant individual would reduce cognitive task performance compared to the other conditions. The cognitive test used was a match-tosample discrimination task in which animals matched combinations of eight geometric shapes. Animals were trained on this task in an isolated context until they reached a baseline level of proficiency and were then tested in the three social contexts in a random order multiple times. Two subjects (Mt and Dv) have successfully completed trials under all conditions. Results indicated that there were no significant difference in taskperformance across the three conditions (Dv x^2 (1) = 0.42, p=0.58; Mt x^2 (1) = 0.02, p=0.88). In all conditions, subjects performed significantly above chance (i.e., 39/60 trials determined by a binomial distribution). Results are contrary to previous studies thatreport low status monkeys 'play dumb' when testing in a mixed social context, possibly because other studies did not account for aggressive interference by dominants while testing. Results of this study suggest that the mere presence of a dominant individualdoes not necessarily affect performance on a cognitive task, but rather the imminence of physical aggression is the most important factor influencing testing in a social context.


Capuchin, Cebus apella, audience effects, cognition

Access Type

Honors Thesis


Animal Behavior

First Advisor

Peter Gregory Judge