The Arena System: a novel shared touch-panel apparatus for the study of chimpanzee social interaction and cognition


We report on the development of a novel shared touch-panel apparatus for examining a diverse range of topics in great ape social cognition and interaction. Our apparatus—named the Arena System—is composed of a single multitouch monitor that spans across two separate testing booths, so that individuals situated in each booth have tactile access to half of the monitor and visual access to the whole monitor. Additional components of the system include a smart-film barrier able to restrict visual access between the booths, as well as two automated feeding devices that dispense food rewards to the subjects. The touch-panel, smart-film, and feeders are controlled by a PC that is also responsible for running the experimental tasks. We present data from a pilot behavioral game theory study with two chimpanzees in order to illustrate the efficacy of our method, and we suggest applications for a range of topics including animal social learning, coordination, and behavioral economics. The system enables fully automated experimental procedures, which means that no human participation is needed to run the tasks. The novel use of a touch-panel in a social setting allows for a finer degree of data resolution than do the traditional experimental apparatuses used in prior studies on great ape social interaction.

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Author note

Development and implementation of the Arena System were supported by grants from the Ministry of Education, Sports, Technology, and Culture (MEXT)—Grant Nos. 16002001, 20002001, and 24000001, JSPS-GCOE (A06, Biodiversity), and JSPS-HOPE to T.M.—and by a MEXT scholarship and a JSPS grant-in-aid to C.F.M. D.B. was supported by a Royal Society University Research Fellowship. We acknowledge Ikuma Adachi for his help in the construction of the system, Masaki Tomonaga and Misato Hayashi for their help in overseeing the chimpanzee research, and the Center for Human Evolution Modeling and Research for daily care of the chimpanzees. Thanks are due Colin Camerer and Rahul Bhui of the California Institute of Technology for technical advice on the design of the game theory task.

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Correspondence to Christopher Flynn Martin.

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Martin, C.F., Biro, D. & Matsuzawa, T. The Arena System: a novel shared touch-panel apparatus for the study of chimpanzee social interaction and cognition. Behav Res 46, 611–618 (2014) doi:10.3758/s13428-013-0418-y

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  • Touch-screen
  • Animal cognition
  • Social interaction