, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 641-649

Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) accurately compare poured liquid quantities

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Abstract

Although many studies have shown that nonhuman animals can choose the larger of two discrete quantities of items, less emphasis has been given to discrimination of continuous quantity. These studies are necessary to discern the similarities and differences in discrimination performance as a function of the type of quantities that are compared. Chimpanzees made judgments between continuous quantities (liquids) in a series of three experiments. In the first experiment, chimpanzees first chose between two clear containers holding differing amounts of juice. Next, they watched as two liquid quantities were dispensed from opaque syringes held above opaque containers. In the second experiment, one liquid amount was presented by pouring it into an opaque container from an opaque syringe, whereas the other quantity was visible the entire time in a clear container. In the third experiment, the heights at which the opaque syringes were held above opaque containers differed for each set, so that sometimes sets with smaller amounts of juice were dropped from a greater height, providing a possible visual illusion as to the total amount. Chimpanzees succeeded in all tasks and showed many similarities in their continuous quantity estimation to how they performed previously in similar tasks with discrete quantities (for example, performance was constrained by the ratio between sets). Chimpanzees could compare visible sets to nonvisible sets, and they were not distracted by perceptual illusions created through various presentation styles that were not relevant to the actual amount of juice dispensed. This performance demonstrated a similarity in the quantitative discrimination skills of chimpanzees for continuous quantities that matches that previously shown for discrete quantities.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10071-010-0318-9