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Do rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) perceive illusory motion?

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Abstract

During the last decade, visual illusions have been used repeatedly to understand similarities and differences in visual perception of human and non-human animals. However, nearly all studies have focused only on illusions not related to motion perception, and to date, it is unknown whether non-human primates perceive any kind of motion illusion. In the present study, we investigated whether rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) perceived one of the most popular motion illusions in humans, the Rotating Snake illusion (RSI). To this purpose, we set up four experiments. In Experiment 1, subjects initially were trained to discriminate static versus dynamic arrays. Once reaching the learning criterion, they underwent probe trials in which we presented the RSI and a control stimulus identical in overall configuration with the exception that the order of the luminance sequence was changed in a way that no apparent motion is perceived by humans. The overall performance of monkeys indicated that they spontaneously classified RSI as a dynamic array. Subsequently, we tested adult humans in the same task with the aim of directly comparing the performance of human and non-human primates (Experiment 2). In Experiment 3, we found that monkeys can be successfully trained to discriminate between the RSI and a control stimulus. Experiment 4 showed that a simple change in luminance sequence in the two arrays could not explain the performance reported in Experiment 3. These results suggest that some rhesus monkeys display a human-like perception of this motion illusion, raising the possibility that the neurocognitive systems underlying motion perception may be similar between human and non-human primates.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by FIRB Grant 2013 (RBFR13KHFS) from “Ministero dell’Istruzione, Università e Ricerca” (MIUR, Italy) to Christian Agrillo and by funding from the National Institutes of Health to Michael J. Beran (Grant HD-060563). The authors thank the three anonymous reviewers for their useful comments, Ted Evans and Audrey E. Parrish for assistance with data collection, and the Language Research Center staff for their care of the primates.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Christian Agrillo.

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Agrillo, C., Gori, S. & Beran, M.J. Do rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) perceive illusory motion?. Anim Cogn 18, 895–910 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-015-0860-6

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