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Orang-utans rely on orientation cues and egocentric rules when judging others' perspectives in a competitive food task


Haun,  Daniel B. M.
Comparative Cognitive Anthropology, MPI for Psycholinguistics, Max Planck Society;

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Gretscher, H., Haun, D. B. M., Liebal, K., & Kaminski, J. (2012). Orang-utans rely on orientation cues and egocentric rules when judging others' perspectives in a competitive food task. Animal Behaviour, 84, 323-331. doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2012.04.021.

Adopting the paradigm of a study conducted with chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes (Melis et al. 2006, Journal of Comparative Psychology, 120, 154–162), we investigated orang-utans', Pongo pygmaeus, understanding of others' visual perspectives. More specifically, we examined whether orang-utans would adjust their behaviour in a way that prevents a human competitor from seeing them steal a piece of food. In the task, subjects had to reach through one of two opposing Plexiglas tunnels in order to retrieve a food reward. Both rewards were also physically accessible to a human competitor sitting opposite the subject. Subjects always had the possibility of reaching one piece of food that was outside the human's line of sight. This was because either the human was oriented to one, but not the other, reward or because one tunnel was covered by an opaque barrier and the other remained transparent. In the situation in which the human was oriented towards one reward, the orang-utans successfully avoided the tunnel that the competitor was facing. If one tunnel was covered, they marginally preferred to reach through the opaque versus the transparent tunnel. However, they did so frequently after initially inspecting the transparent tunnel (then switching to the opaque one). Considering only the subjects' initial inspections, they chose randomly between the opaque and transparent tunnel, indicating that their final decision to reach was probably driven by a more egocentric behavioural rule. Overall the results suggest that orang-utans have a limited understanding of others' perspectives, relying mainly on cues from facial and bodily orientation and egocentric rules when making such judgements.