WASHINGTON More non-human animals may be capable of abstract thought than previously known, with profound implications for the evolution of human intelligence and the stuff that separates homo sapiens from other animals. A trans-Atlantic team of psychologists has found evidence of abstract thought in baboons, significant because baboons are "old world monkeys," part of a different primate "super family" that -- some 30 million years ago -- split from the family that gave rise to apes and then humans. Chimpanzees, in the ape family, already have demonstrated abstract thought. Now, two trained baboons successfully determined that two differently detailed displays were fundamentally the same in their overall design. Figuring this out required analogical (this is to this as that is to that) reasoning, which many theorists view as the foundation of human reasoning and intelligence.
The study is reported in the October issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).
In a series of five experiments, Jol Fagot, Ph.D., of the Center for Research in Cognitive Neuroscience in Marseille, France; Edward A. Wasserman, Ph.D., of both the Center for Research in Cognitive Neuroscience and the University of Iowa; and Michael E. Young, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa trained two adult baboons, one male and one female, to use a personal computer and joystick to look at and select grids that had varying collections of little pictures.
In the foundation experiment, researchers familiarized the baboons with a screen display of 16 different little pictures (four rows of four across), such as the sun, an arrow, a light bulb, a train, and a house, OR with a display of the same little picture repeated 16 times (for example, all telephones). Resear
Contact: APA Public Affairs Office
American Psychological Association