Animal Cognition

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 393–403 | Cite as

Inferences by exclusion in the great apes: the effect of age and species

  • Josep Call
Original Article


This study investigated the ability of chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and bonobos to make inferences by exclusion using the procedure pioneered by Premack and Premack (Cognition 50:347–362, 1994) with chimpanzees. Thirty apes were presented with two different food items (banana vs. grape) on a platform and covered with identical containers. One of the items was removed from the container and placed between the two containers so that subjects could see it. After discarding this item, subjects could select between the two containers. In Experiment 1, apes preferentially selected the container that held the item that the experimenter had not discarded, especially if subjects saw the experimenter remove the item from the container (but without seeing the container empty). Experiment 3 in which the food was removed from one of the containers behind a barrier confirmed these results. In contrast, subjects performed at chance levels when a stimulus (colored plastic chip: Exp. 1; food item: Exp. 2 and Exp. 3) designated the item that had been removed. These results indicated that apes made inferences, not just learned to use a discriminative cue to avoid the empty container. Apes perceived and treated the item discarded by the experimenter as if it were the very one that had been hidden under the container. Results suggested a positive relationship between age and inferential ability independent of memory ability but no species differences.


Inferential reasoning Animal logic Object individuation Behavior control by exclusion Object representation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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