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Department of Psychology pres.

Biopsychology Colloquium: The origins of cognitive flexibility in chimpanzees

Averill Cantwell, Biopsychology Graduate Student

Averill Cantwell Averill Cantwell
Averill Cantwell
Abstract: Humans possess striking abilities to flexibly modify behavior in response to a changing environment. A number of proposals argue that executive functions, the suite of cognitive abilities that enable such behavior, are uniquely advanced in our species. In particular, it has been proposed that our long ontogeny permits the development of advanced executive function skills. Another proposal highlights our flexible use of different information types, such as readily using abstract or arbitrary cues to guide behavior. There is, however, a gap in our understanding of how human executive functions compare to those of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees. I will present two studies examining a key component of executive function, flexible switching, in chimpanzees using a reversal learning paradigm. I investigated chimpanzees’ use of different types of information when updating their behavior, and characterized developmental change and individual variation in this ability. I will discuss how these results highlight possible differences between human and non-human ape executive functions.

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