Primates are living links to our past: The contribution of comparative studies with wild vervet monkeys to the field of social cognition.Cortex. 2019 09; 118:65-81.C
By studying the behavior of nonhuman primates, particularly in wild settings, researchers have been able to investigate a range of cognitive abilities, shedding light on the evolution of certain aspects of cognition and revealing potential evolutionary precursors of many capacities considered uniquely human. Vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) have been widely investigated due to their prevalence and their suitability for experimental testing in the wild with an ecologically valid approach that is not possible with many other primates, especially apes. Here we review advances in the understanding of a number of cognitive and behavioral processes that have been gleaned from studies conducted with wild vervet monkeys over the past half century, primarily focusing on social cognitive abilities. We direct our attention to three major areas of study; communication, cooperation and trade, and social learning. We discuss how findings from this species have contributed (and continue to contribute) to our understanding of the evolution of human cognitive capacities and suggest future avenues of research with this species.