Date of Thesis



Multiple recent studies provide evidence that both human and nonhuman primates possess motor planning abilities. I tested for the demonstration of motor planning in two previously untested primate species through two experiments. In the first experiment, I compared the extent to which squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus) and brown capuchins (Cebus apella) plan their movements in a grasping task. Individuals were presented with an inverted cup that required being turned and held upright in order to extract a food reward from the inside of the cup. This task was most efficiently solved by using an initially awkward inverted grasp that affords a comfortable hand and arm orientation at the end of the movement (known as end-state comfort). While certain individuals from both species exhibited end-state comfort, many of the capuchins never demonstrated this type of motor planning. Furthermore, the squirrel monkeys used the efficient grasp significantly more than the capuchins. In the second experiment, I presented the capuchins with another grasping task to test if they would express motor planning abilities in a different context. Here, the capuchins were offered a dowel that was baited on either the left or right end. A radial grasp with the thumb pointing towards the baited end was considered to be the most efficient grasp because it afforded a comfortable final position. The capuchins switched hands and used an overhand radial grasp on the dowel significantly more often than not, thus demonstrating motor planning in this task. The grasps typically utilized by these two closely related species differ considerably in that capuchins are capable of exercising precision grips, whereas squirrel monkeys are limited to whole-handed power grips. Moreover, unlike capuchins, squirrel monkeys are not particularly dexterous nor are they capable of precise manipulative actions. It is therefore more beneficial for squirrel monkeys to plan their movements efficiently because they are less capable of compensating for inappropriate initial grasps. Due to the appreciable variability in the expression of motor planning skills across species, I proposed that morphological constraints might explain the observed discrepancies in movement planning among different primate species.


Motor planning, nonhuman primate, end state comfort, morphology

Access Type

Masters Thesis (Bucknell Access Only)

Degree Type

Master of Science


Animal Behavior

First Advisor

Peter Judge