Psychology Magazine

Evidence That Monkeys Have Conscious Awareness of Self - They Know What They Saw.

By Deric Bownds @DericBownds

Ben-Haim et al. Disentangle perceptual awareness from nonconscious processing in rhesus monkeys  


Many animals perform complex intelligent behaviors, but the question of whether animals are aware while doing so remains a long debated but unanswered question. Here, we develop a new approach to assess whether nonhuman animals have awareness by utilizing a well-known double dissociation of visual awareness—cases in which people behave in completely opposite ways when stimuli are processed consciously versus nonconsciously. Using this method, we found that a nonhuman species—the rhesus monkey—exhibits the very same behavioral signature of both nonconscious and conscious processing. This opposite double dissociation of awareness firstly allows stripping away the long inherent ambiguity when interpreting the processes governing animal behavior. Collectively, it provides robust support for two distinct awareness modes in nonhuman animals.
Scholars have long debated whether animals, which display impressive intelligent behaviors, are consciously aware or not. Yet, because many complex human behaviors and high-level functions can be performed without conscious awareness, it was long considered impossible to untangle whether animals are aware or just conditionally or nonconsciously behaving. Here, we developed an empirical approach to address this question. We harnessed a well-established cross-over double dissociation between nonconscious and conscious processing, in which people perform in completely opposite ways when they are aware of stimuli versus when they are not. To date, no one has explored if similar performance dissociations exist in a nonhuman species. In a series of seven experiments, we first established these signatures in humans using both known and newly developed nonverbal double-dissociation tasks and then identified similar signatures in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). These results provide robust evidence for two distinct modes of processing in nonhuman primates. This empirical approach makes it feasible to disentangle conscious visual awareness from nonconscious processing in nonhuman species; hence, it can be used to strip away ambiguity when exploring the processes governing intelligent behavior across the animal kingdom. Taken together, these results strongly support the existence of both nonconscious processing as well as functional human-like visual awareness in nonhuman animals.
(Note: Establishing double dissociation of awareness used a nonverbal spatial-cueing paradigm. Motivated readers can email me to obtain a PDF of the article which describes this paradigm.)

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