, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 1021-1030
Date: 11 May 2012

Performance on patterned string problems by common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus)

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This experiment examined the performance of common marmosets (Callithrix jacchus) on a series of patterned string problems to assess the marmosets’ understanding of means–ends relationships. One marmoset, Jet, was exposed to a series of problems that were ordered in terms of perceived difficulty during two testings that were separated by 1 year. In the second testing, Jet received problems that had been used during the first testing along with three new problems. Each of the new problems was designed to be an exemplar of the type of problem that Jet had experienced difficulty with in the first testing. A second marmoset, Peaches, was tested on the same set of problems given to Jet in the second testing. Results indicated that the marmosets’ performance on these problems fell into three categories. In one category, some problems were solved without evidence of trial-and-error learning. In a second category, there were problems in which the marmosets responded at chance levels initially but evidenced improvement as a function of extended testing. In a third category, some problems appeared to be virtually unsolvable even with extended testing. Taken together, these results indicate that the marmosets were able to learn the means–ends connection between pulling a string and obtaining food. This learning was best characterized as a trial-and-error process for some problem forms, while for others there appeared to be rapid learning that did not require extensive practice. The instances of rapid learning may be the result of the application of a simple spatial proximity rule in which the marmosets chose the string that was closest to an imaginary line drawn between the marmoset and the reinforcer.