Old World and New World Monkeys

Feel insecure? You’re not alone. Monkeys too are inflected with uncertainty and self-doubt.

MacaqueProfessor Michael Beran and John David Smith trained macaques, the Old World group (native to Asia, Africa, and Europe), to play a computer game: if they answered correctly on a test question, they got a treat. Wrong answer, no treat. And third option: question mark. Select the question mark, the screen skips the present question that is considered too hard, and moves on.

The macaques answered in the very same way as humans. The monkeys skipped the tricky questions.

Dr. Smith told the BBC:

“Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error… They seem to know when they don’t know.”

Capuchins, which are New World monkeys (from Central and South America), however, failed to choose the question mark option.

Because macaques are Old World primates, their ability to recognize their own level of thinking may show us a step in human evolution. Dr. Smith thinks this level of cognition might have developed strictly in the line of Old World primates, leading to humans. To put it another way, don’t blame your teacher/mother/boss/first therapist for filling you up with self-doubt. In fact the blame lies with the Old World monkeys!

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