Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Problem seeking versus the bird-in-hand, least-effort strategy

Abstract

Fifteen adult chimpanzees were tested on a series of tasks that differed from standard two-choice object discrimination learning problems in one detail: a third choice was sometimes offered, and it consisted of clearly visible and readily accessible food. Even under conditions where they would have to score 100% on the discrimination learning tasks to get as much food as they could get by taking the “free” food, many of the chimpanzees worked on the problems. Individual differences were large and reliable. Frequency of response to a given problem also varied according to how accurately the animals were performing and increased markedly if the hidden food was made a few grams larger than the free food. The chimpanzees did not rely strictly on a “bird-in-hand” strategy or necessarily always work to get the maximum amount of food with the minimum amount of energy expenditure. Whether this is bad economics or good economics depends on the time scale on which one views adaptation.

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Menzel, E.W. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes): Problem seeking versus the bird-in-hand, least-effort strategy. Primates 32, 497–508 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02381940

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Key Words

  • Discrimination learning
  • Problem seeking
  • Bird-in-hand
  • Least effort
  • Risk-sensitivity