Great apes infer others' goals based on context.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

In previous studies claiming to demonstrate that great apes understand the goals of others, the apes could potentially have been using subtle behavioral cues present during the test to succeed. In the current studies, we ruled out the use of such cues by making the behavior of the experimenter identical in the test phase of both the experimental and control conditions; the only difference was the preceding "context." In the first study, apes interpreted a human's ambiguous action as having the underlying goal of opening a box, or not, based on that human's previous actions with similar boxes. In the second study, chimpanzees learned that when a human stood up she was going to go get food for them, but when a novel, unexpected event happened, they changed their expectation-presumably based on their understanding that this new event led the human to change her goal. These studies suggest that great apes do not need concurrent behavioral cues to infer others' goals, but can do so from a variety of different types of cues-even cues displaced in time.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Buttelmann, D; Schütte, S; Carpenter, M; Call, J; Tomasello, M

Published Date

  • November 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 15 / 6

Start / End Page

  • 1037 - 1053

PubMed ID

  • 22752816

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1435-9456

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1435-9448

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1007/s10071-012-0528-4


  • eng