Rapid cognitive flexibility of rhesus macaques performing psychophysical task-switching
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Three rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) performed a simultaneous chaining task in which stimuli had to be sorted according to their visual properties. Each stimulus could vary independently along two dimensions (luminosity and radius), and a cue indicating which dimension to sort by was random trial to trial. These rapid and unpredictable changes constitute a task-switching paradigm, in which subjects must encode task demands and shift to whichever task-set is presently activated. In contrast to the widely reported task-switching delay observed in human studies, our subjects show no appreciable reduction in reaction times following a switch in the task requirements. Also, in contrast to the results of studies on human subjects, monkeys experienced enduring interference from trial-irrelevant stimulus features, even after exhaustive training. These results are consistent with a small but growing body of evidence that task-switching in rhesus macaques differs in basic ways from the pattern of behavior reported in studies of human cognition. Given the importance of task-switching paradigms in cognitive and clinical assessment, and the frequency with which corresponding animal models rely on non-human primates, understanding these differences in behavior is essential to the comparative study of cognitive impairment.
KeywordsComparative cognition Cognitive assessment Mental set Task-switching Rhesus macaques
This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01 MH051153 awarded to H. S. Terrace.
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