Apes' use of iconic cues in the object-choice task.
In previous studies great apes have shown little ability to locate hidden food using a physical marker placed by a human directly on the target location. In this study, we hypothesized that the perceptual similarity between an iconic cue and the hidden reward (baited container) would help apes to infer the location of the food. In the first two experiments, we found that if an iconic cue is given in addition to a spatial/indexical cue - e.g., picture or replica of a banana placed on the target location - apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, gorillas) as a group performed above chance. However, we also found in two further experiments that when iconic cues were given on their own without spatial/indexical information (iconic cue held up by human with no diagnostic spatial/indexical information), the apes were back to chance performance. Our overall conclusion is that although iconic information helps apes in the process of searching hidden food, the poor performance found in the last two experiments is due to apes' lack of understanding of the informative (cooperative) communicative intention of the experimenter.
Herrmann, E; Melis, AP; Tomasello, M
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