Automated cognitive testing of monkeys in social groups yields results comparable to individual laboratory-based testing
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Cognitive abilities likely evolved in response to specific environmental and social challenges and are therefore expected to be specialized for the life history of each species. Specialized cognitive abilities may be most readily engaged under conditions that approximate the natural environment of the species being studied. While naturalistic environments might therefore have advantages over laboratory settings for cognitive research, it is difficult to conduct certain types of cognitive tests in these settings. We implemented methods for automated cognitive testing of monkeys (Macaca mulatta) in large social groups (Field station) and compared the performance to that of laboratory-housed monkeys (Laboratory). The Field station animals shared access to four touch-screen computers in a large naturalistic social group. Each Field station subject had an RFID chip implanted in each arm for computerized identification and individualized assignment of cognitive tests. The Laboratory group was housed and tested in a typical laboratory setting, with individual access to testing computers in their home cages. Monkeys in both groups voluntarily participated at their own pace for food rewards. We evaluated performance in two visual psychophysics tests, a perceptual classification test, a transitive inference test, and a delayed matching-to-sample memory test. Despite the differences in housing, social environment, age, and sex, monkeys in the two groups performed similarly in all tests. Semi-free ranging monkeys living in complex social environments are therefore viable subjects for cognitive testing designed to take advantage of the unique affordances of naturalistic testing environments.
KeywordsTransitive inference Memory Classification Psychophysics Rhesus macaque Social housing RFID
The Yerkes National Primate Research Center is fully accredited by the American Association for Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care. This project was funded by the National Center for Research Resources P51RR165, currently supported by the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs/OD P51OD11132, the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience under the STC Program of the NSF under Agreement IBN-9876754, a grant from the James S. McDonnell Foundation, NIH grant R01MH082819, NSF grants 0745573 and 1146316. Regina Paxton Gazes was supported in part by the National Science Foundation grant DGE-0231900 and by Zoo Atlanta. We thank Dina P. Chou, Steven R.L. Sherrin, Jacey Jones, and Angela Tripp for help testing subjects. We thank Tom Hassett for help collecting dominance hierarchy data on Field station subjects, and the colony management and veterinary staff of the Yerkes Field Station for their gracious support of this work.
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