Monkeys Express Self-Doubt Through Computer Gaming

Are self-doubt and uncertainty purely human traits, or do other members of the animal kingdom experience these feelings? A team of scientists made monkeys play video games because it's awesome. Oh, and to address the whole self-doubt thing.

It's too late for me, but some of you are still young enough to switch your focus to more scientific pursuits. Then one day you might have a job as entertaining as the one Professor John David Smith from State University of New York at Buffalo and Michael Beran from Georgia State University have: Teaching monkeys to play video games - for science!

The monkeys aren't playing Bulletstorm or Final Fantasy Tactics, but it's a start.

The dynamic science duo trained some macaques to play a very basic computer game involving the density of particles in a series of rudimentary shapes. Using a joystick, the monkeys were asked to determine whether to density of particles making up each shape were either 'S' for sparse or 'D' for dense. Moving the joystick to either letter answered the question.

Choosing the correct answer scored the monkeys an edible treat. Choosing the incorrect answer had no detrimental effect, other than a pause between problems.

Monkeys aren't big fans of pauses, especially where treats are concerned.

So the scientists added a third element to the game. If the monkeys were not sure what the answer was, they could pass, moving on to the next problem without delay. They discovered that the macaques used the option exactly the same way a human would.

"Monkeys apparently appreciate when they are likely to make an error," he told BBC News. "They seem to know when they don't know."

So these macaques, known as old world monkeys closely related to humans and apes, demonstrated self-awareness.

Running the same test on a group of new world capuchins monkeys, further evolutionarily removed from humans, resulted in the pass option not being utilized.

Dr. Smith explained: "There is a big theoretical question at stake here: Did [this type of cognition] develop only once in one line of the primates - emerging only in the line of Old World primates leading to apes and humans?"

Smith says the results are important in determining why self-awareness is so important to humans, and where the trait came from.

I'm still excited about the whole monkeys playing video games thing. Perhaps their next experiment can test to see if monkeys have self-esteem by trying to get them to play Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis on the Gamecube.

Check out the BBC story for a video of monkeys playing video games.

Monkeys 'display self-doubt' like humans [BBC News]