Michael J. Beran, Ph.D.
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September 1, 2021



Evans, T. A., Beran, M. J., & Addessi, E. (2010). Can nonhuman primates use tokens to represent and sum quantities? Journal of Comparative Psychology, 124, 369-380. 

It is unclear whether nonhuman animals can use physical tokens to flexibly represent various quantities by combining token values. Previous studies showed that chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and a macaque (Macaca mulatta) were only partly successful in tests involving sets of different-looking food containers representing different food quantities, while some capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) have shown greater success in tests involving sets of various concrete objects representing different food quantities. Some of the discrepancy in results between these studies may be attributed to the different methods used. In an effort to reconcile these discrepancies, we presented two primates species, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys, with two token tasks. The critical test in each task involved summing the value of multiple tokens of different types to make accurate quantity judgments. We found that, using either method, individuals of both species learned to associate individual tokens with specific quantities, as well as successfully compare individual tokens to one another or to sets of visible food items. However, regardless of method, only a few individuals exhibited the capacity to sum multiple tokens of different types and then use those summed values to make an optimal response. This suggests that flexible combination of symbolic stimuli in quantity judgments tasks is within the abilities of chimpanzees and capuchins but does not characterize the majority of individuals. Furthermore, the results suggest the need to carefully examine specific methodological details that may promote or hinder such possible representation.

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