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How great apes perform on a modified trap-tube task


To date, neither primates nor birds have shown clear evidence of causal knowledge when attempting to solve the trap tube task. One factor that may have contributed to mask the knowledge that subjects may have about the task is that subjects were only allowed to push the reward away from them, which is a particularly difficult action for primates in certain problem solving situations. We presented five orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), two chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), two bonobos (Pan paniscus), and one gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) with a modified trap tube that allowed subjects to push or rake the reward with the tool. In two additional follow-up tests, we inverted the tube 180° rendering the trap nonfunctional and also presented subjects with the original task in which they were required to push the reward out of the tube. Results showed that all but one of the subjects preferred to rake the reward. Two orangutans and one chimpanzee (all of whom preferred to rake the reward), consistently avoided the trap only when it was functional but failed the original task. These findings suggest that some great apes may have some causal knowledge about the trap-tube task. Their success, however, depended on whether they were allowed to choose certain tool-using actions.

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Correspondence to Nicholas J. Mulcahy.

Electronic supplementary material

Orangutan in the initial phase of the study using the tool to rake the reward out. The first part of the videoclip shows a successful trial while the second part shows an unsuccessful trial. Note the attempts of the orangutan to lift the reward over the trap in the second trial.

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Mulcahy, N.J., Call, J. How great apes perform on a modified trap-tube task. Anim Cogn 9, 193–199 (2006).

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  • Causal knowledge
  • Tool use
  • Problem solving
  • Anticipation