Context influences spatial frames of reference in bonobos (Pan paniscus)

in Behaviour
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Primates must solve complex spatial problems when foraging, such as finding patchy resources and navigating between different locations. However, the nature of the cognitive representations supporting these types of behaviors is currently unclear. In humans, there has been great debate concerning the relative importance of egocentric representations (which are viewer-dependent) versus allocentric representations (which are based on aspects of the external environment). Comparative studies of nonhuman apes can illuminate which aspects of human spatial cognition are shared with other primates, versus which aspects are unique to our lineage. The current studies therefore examined spatial cognitive development in one of our closest living relatives, bonobos (Pan paniscus) across contexts. The first study assessed how younger bonobos encode locations in a place-response task in which apes first learn that one of two locations is consistently baited with a reward, and then must approach the two locations from a flipped perspective. The second study examined how a larger age sample of bonobos responded to a spatial relations task in which they first experience that one location is baited, and then can generalize this learning to a new set of targets. Results indicated that while bonobos exhibited a predominantly allocentric strategy in the first study, they consistently exhibited an egocentric strategy in the second. Together, these results show that bonobos can use both strategies to encode spatial information, and illuminate the complementary contributions to cognition made by egocentric and allocentric representations.

Context influences spatial frames of reference in bonobos (Pan paniscus)

in Behaviour



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    Setup for place-response task (Study 1). In each session, apes first completed 12 learning trials in which one of two locations (both overturned bowls) was consistently baited. In the final probe trial, the apes’ starting position was rotated 180° so they faced the locations from a flipped perspective. Their responses therefore indicated if they had encoded the baited location from a viewer-dependent (egocentric) framework or a spatial (allocentric) framework. On all trials the caretaker centered the bonobo at their starting position, and the experimenter stood in the opposite position across the midline of the testing area.

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    Results from place-response task (Study 1). (a) Bonobos’ mean proportion choices for the correct location in learning trials, and for the allocentric location in probe trials. (b) Relationship between overall allocentric probe choices and the subject’s age. Error bars indicate standard error. p<0.05, ∗∗∗p<0.001.

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    Setup for relations task (Study 2). Apes first completed a learning phase in which one location (always either the left or right side) was consistently baited. After apes met a learning criterion indicating they consistently chose the correct side, they moved 180° into a new room for the test phase. In the last 10 trials, apes faced an identical table from a flipped perspective to assess if they had encoded the baited location from a viewer-dependent (egocentric) framework or a spatial (allocentric) framework. The experimenter sat centered behind the table at both locations.

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    Results from the relations task (Study 2). (a) Bonobos’ mean proportion choices in the test phase for the allocentric option, the egocentric option, and the middle option. (b) Breakdown of egocentric choices in test phase by the subjects’ sex. Error bars indicate standard error. p<0.05, ∗∗∗p<0.001.


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