Brownian thought space

Cognitive science, mostly, but more a sometimes structured random walk about things.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Monkey knows

No, the article is not about the dude; but looks a lot like the author Webb Phillips who with Laurie Santos , both from Yale.edu, wrote the piece. Basically, the idea is to show that monkeys can hold representations of kinds of stuff . For example, if you see a white cuboidal piece of fruit, it could be cut out of an apple or out of a coconut. But if you liked coconuts and not apple, you would feel differently about these two pieces that look (but not smell/taste etc.) pretty much the same. In their experiment, P&S show monkeys sequences like the above, where a white cuboid is extracted either from a coconut or from an apple, and 'placed' into a box (which already contains a piece of apple/coconut), but is actually slipped into Webb's pocket. Essentially, monkeys scour the boxes longer if they saw a piece of apple placed inside but found a piece of coconut (and vice versa), implying that they expected not just a bit of fruit, but a specific piece of fruit, independent of what they saw (the same thing, each time). It would have been SO cool if they had gone a step further and showed that the same thing happened with a fake fruit. As they discuss, their monkeys might have learnt: "coconut shape" => "coconut taste", and so might continue looking for a coconut even if they found a piece of apple. But, if the piece came from some unknown (to the monkey) fruit, and if it still searched longer, the monkey would have had to have made the inference: unknown fruit -> unknown flavour; known flavour -> known fruit, != unknown fruit. Essentially, it might be better evidence against the associationist accounts, although I suspect nothing short of a 16-ton, Monty Pythonesque weight will convince them... Webb Phillips and Laurie R. Santos, Evidence for kind representations in the absence of language: Experiments with rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta), Cognition, Volume 102, Issue 3, March 2007, Pages 455-463.

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