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Bucknell primate laboratory tests monkeys' intelligence

Sunday, April 13, 2003

By Karen Blackledge, The Associated Press

LEWISBURG, Pa. -- With a name like Monet, he has to be the most advanced.

This cute, furry guy appears to be the only one who shows signs that he is actually counting numbers.

He is an 8-year-old brown Capuchin monkey whose intelligence is being tested along with that of others monkeys at Bucknell University's primate research facility.

It is one of the few undergraduate research facilities of its kind in the country, according to Bucknell associate professor and primatologist Peter Judge.

The Capuchins, which are New World monkeys, are demonstrating they have similar cognitive abilities to Old World monkeys.

Judge said numerical competence has been demonstrated in Old World monkeys but has not been shown before in New World monkeys.

The Bucknell Capuchins are New World, meaning they are from South and Central America. Old World describes monkeys from Africa, Asia and other areas.

Bucknell's Capuchins also are performing tests as well as or better than Rhesus Macaques.

"The monkeys keep the student interest, and the students are working with intelligent subjects," he said.

The studies with the Capuchins began at Bucknell with Judge, who brought them to the university. There are eight brown Capuchins along with five squirrel monkeys including 23-year-old Star Kist; Lion-tailed Macaques; and 18 Hamadryas baboons -- five adults plus juveniles and babies.

The monkeys use a computer screen, which is rolled up to their enclosures, where they touch objects they see on the screen. A student assisting with the research will see what the monkey sees through a monitor. The computer records their responses.

Monet, for example, may see four images that he touches in numerical order. Once he learned his numbers 1 through 4, he then learned the numbers 5 through 9.

This line of research was begun by Douglas Candland, professor of psychology and animal behavior, who retired in the spring of 2002. Candland founded the animal behavior program at Bucknell and is responsible for its worldwide reputation. The research facility was begun in the 1960s.

Judge began the similar studies with Capuchins. He has been teaching at Bucknell for three years.

The monkeys also study pictures on the screen of familiar and unfamiliar objects. When they match two objects, the screen shows a green border and they receive a reward -- a sunflower seed -- and then move on to the next test. If they don't match an object, the screen goes blank but comes back on for another try. "We find they do better matching of familiar objects," Judge said.

The monkeys are at the stage now where they will be looking at pictures of their group mates and determining if they are their friends or foes.

Four of the Capuchins know how to match familiar and unfamiliar objects. The squirrel monkeys and Macaques have started in this testing.

Monet has been tested in a manufacturing tools task, which he mastered the first time. His mission involved a piece of PVC pipe with a T-shape, requiring most tasks," Judge said.

Student Sarah Conant has been working with Monet.

Natalie, an 8-year-old Capuchin, also does this matching and numerical work.

Judge and his students will continue on with other studies and will expand them to the other monkeys.

With baboons, he is particularly interested in conflict resolution mechanisms and social cognition: who they are friends with, who fights with whom.

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