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Research at St Andrews

Distinguishing intentional from accidental actions in orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus), chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and human children (Homo sapiens)

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Author(s)

J Call, M Tomasello

School/Research organisations

Abstract

This study investigates the understanding of others' intentions in 2- and 3-year-old children, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), and orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus). During training, subjects learned to use a discriminative cue to select a baited box. During testing, the experimenter placed a marker on top of the baited box to inform the subject of the reward's location. However, the experimenter also accidentally dropped the marker on top of an unbaited box, so that during any given trial the experimenter marked 2 boxes, 1 intentionally and 1 accidentally. All 3 species preferentially selected the box the experimenter had marked intentionally (especially during the initial trials), with 3-year-old children presenting the most robust results. These findings suggest that subjects understood something about the experimenter's intentions. The authors speculate that understanding of others' intentions may precede the understanding of others' beliefs both at the ontogenetic and phylogenetic levels.

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Details

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-206
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Volume112
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1998

    Research areas

  • BEHAVIOR

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