Capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) modulate their use of an uncertainty response depending on risk.J Exp Psychol Anim Learn Cogn. 2016 Jan; 42(1):32-43.JE
Metacognition refers to thinking about thinking, and there has been a great deal of interest in how this ability manifests across primates. Based on much of the work to date, a tentative division has been drawn with New World monkeys on 1 side and Old World monkeys and apes on the other. Specifically, Old World monkeys, apes, and humans often show patterns reflecting metacognition, but New World monkeys typically do not, or show less convincing behavioral patterns. However, recent data suggest that this difference may relate to other aspects of some experimental tasks. For example, 1 possibility is that risk tolerance affects how capuchin monkeys, a New World primate species, tend to perform. Specifically, it has recently been argued that on tasks in which there are 2 or 3 options, the "risk" of guessing is tolerable for capuchins because there is a high probability of being correct even if they "know they do not know" or feel something akin to uncertainty. The current study investigated this possibility by manipulating the degree of risk (2-choices vs. 6-choices) and found that capuchin monkeys used the uncertainty response more on 6-choice trials than on 2-choice trials. We also found that rate of reward does not appear to underlie these patterns of performance, and propose that the degree of risk is modulating capuchin monkeys' use of the uncertainty response. Thus, the apparent differences between New and Old World monkeys in metacognition may reflect differences in risk tolerance rather than access to metacognitive states.