Animal Cognition

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 661–674 | Cite as

Chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes) and orangutan (Pongo abelii) forethought: self-control and pre-experience in the face of future tool use

  • Mathias OsvathEmail author
  • Helena Osvath
Original Paper


Planning for future needs has traditionally been considered to be restricted to human cognition. Although recent studies on great ape and corvid cognition challenge this belief, the phylogenesis of human planning remains largely unknown. The complex skill for future planning has not yet been satisfactorily established in any other extant primate species than our own. In humans, planning for future needs rely heavily on two overarching capacities, both of which lie at the heart of our cognition: self-control, often defined as the suppression of immediate drives in favor of delayed rewards, and mental time travel, which could be described as a detached mental experience of a past or future event. Future planning is linked to additional high complexity cognition such as metacognition and a consciousness usually not attributed to animals. In a series of four experiments based on tool use, we demonstrate that chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and orangutans (Pongo abelii) override immediate drives in favor of future needs, and they do not merely rely on associative learning or semantic prospection when confronted with a planning task. These results suggest that great apes engage in planning for the future by out competing current drives and mentally pre-experiencing an upcoming event. This suggests that the advanced mental capacities utilized in human future planning are shared by phylogenetically more ancient species than previously believed.


Planning Mental time travel Self-control Bischof–Köhler-hypothesis Animal consciousness 



We would like to thank the members of the LUCS-seminar and Josep Call, Frans de Waal, Daniel Haun, Tomas Persson, Endel Tulving and Staffan Ulfstrand. We are especially grateful to Ing-Marie Persson at Furuvik Zoo.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Lunds University Cognitive ScienceLundSweden

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