Do tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) spontaneously deceive opponents? A preliminary analysis of an experimental food-competition contest between monkeys
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A new laboratory procedure which allows the study of deceptive behavior in nonhuman primates is described. Pairs of tufted capuchin monkeys faced each other in a food-competition contest. Two feeder boxes were placed between the monkeys. A piece of food was placed in one of the boxes. The subordinate individual was able to see the food and to open the box to obtain the bait. A dominant male was unable to see the food or to open the box but was able to take the food once the box was opened by the subordinate. In experiment 1, two of four subordinate monkeys spontaneously started to open the unbaited box first with increasing frequency. Experiment 2 confirmed that this "deceptive" act was not due to a drop in the rate of reinforcement caused by the usurping dominant male, under the situation in which food sometimes automatically dropped from the opened box. In experiment 3, two subordinate monkeys were rerun in the same situation as experiment 1. One of them showed some recovery of the "deceptive" act but the other did not; instead the latter tended to position himself on the side where there was no food before he started to open the box. Although the results do not clearly indicate spontaneous deception, we suggest that operationally defined spontaneous deceptive behaviors in monkeys can be analyzed with experimental procedures such as those used here.
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