While metacognition was originally thought to be an attribute of only humans, continued research in this
field indicates that non-human,non-verbal primates exhibit these abilities as well. Experiments published by Smith and Washburn (2005) compare the capacity
for uncertainty monitoring in humans, monkeys and dolphins. Dolphins were given an auditory discrimination
task while monkeys were presented with a visual discrimination tasks. With each trial, both monkeys and dolphins were given an option to escape the task if there was not enough information to adequately
complete the task.
Results indicated that like humans, dolphins and monkeys used this escape option on the most difficult trials.
This supports the strong link between the capacity for monitoring in humans, dolphins and monkeys. With the results from our research, it is evident
that monkeys can transfer this ability from recognition
tasks to recall tasks, underlining the dynamic nature of the monkeys’ metacognitive monitoring and control abilities.
In addition to the use of confidence judgments,monitoring of uncertainty levels in animals has been investigated using an escape option. In an experiment published by Beran et al. (2006), monkeys were given the option to decline the completion of a numerical judgment task if they were uncertain of the answer. In this numerical judgment task, the subject was required to judge whether a set of dots on the computer screen had more to fewer dots than a center set that had been previously learned. Results indicated that the monkeys used this escape option on the most difficult tasks,where the previously learned set had a close number of dots as the presented set on screen. Although a different confidence reporting method was used, this shows that monkeys can monitor their abilities at psychophysical tasks. Our research confirms that monkeys’monitoring abilities can cross the line from psychophysical tasks to cognitive tasks.
The role of these metacognitive skills in monkeys
parallel those found in the human memory. Humans
make metacognitive judgments on a daily basis, both consciously and subconsciously, as a part of the decision-making process. Though we are not making
claims as to whether the monkey’s process is conscious
or not, the present findings do suggest a strong link between the metacognitive abilities of non-human
primates and humans. Increasing knowledge on the cognitive processes of these monkeys will provide a greater insight in the development of cognitive abilities
without language. This closer relationship between the cognitive mechanisms of non-human primates and humans will also further increase our understanding of human functions.