Children’s and apes’ preparatory responses to two mutually exclusive possibilities

Redshaw, Jonathan and Suddendorf, Thomas (2016) Children’s and apes’ preparatory responses to two mutually exclusive possibilities. Current Biology, 26 13: 1758-1762. doi:10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.062

Author Redshaw, Jonathan
Suddendorf, Thomas
Title Children’s and apes’ preparatory responses to two mutually exclusive possibilities
Journal name Current Biology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0960-9822
Publication date 2016-07-11
Year available 2016
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.062
Open Access Status Not Open Access
Volume 26
Issue 13
Start page 1758
End page 1762
Total pages 5
Place of publication Cambridge, MA United States
Publisher Cell Press
Language eng
Subject 1300 Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
1100 Agricultural and Biological Sciences
Abstract Animal brains have evolved to predict outcomes of events in the immediate environment [1, 2, 3, 4 and 5]. Adult humans are particularly adept at dealing with environmental uncertainty, being able to mentally represent multiple, even mutually exclusive versions of the future and prepare accordingly. This capacity is fundamental to many complex future-oriented behaviors [6 and 7], yet little is known about when it develops in children [8] and whether it is shared with non-human animals [9]. Here we show that children become able to insightfully prepare for two mutually exclusive versions of an undetermined future event during the middle preschool years, whereas we find no evidence for such a capacity in a sample of chimpanzees and orangutans. We gave 90 preschool children and 8 great apes the opportunity to catch an item dropped into a forked tube with two bottom openings. Children’s performance improved linearly across age groups (2, 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 years), with none of the youngest group but most of the oldest group spontaneously covering both openings the first time they prepared to catch the item. The apes performed like 2-year-olds on the first trial, with none of them covering both openings. Some apes and 2-year-olds eventually passed the task, but only in a manner consistent with trial-and-error learning. Our results reveal the developmental trajectory of a critical cognitive ability that allows humans to prepare for future uncertainty, and they also raise the possibility that this ability is not shared with other hominids.
Keyword Prospective cognition
Episodic foresight
Mental time travel
Developmental psychology
Comparative psychology
Comparative cognition
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Provisional Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: HERDC Pre-Audit
School of Psychology Publications
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Citation counts: TR Web of Science Citation Count  Cited 9 times in Thomson Reuters Web of Science Article | Citations
Scopus Citation Count Cited 11 times in Scopus Article | Citations
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Created: Mon, 08 Aug 2016, 08:11:54 EST by Thomas Suddendorf on behalf of School of Psychology