Navigating two-dimensional mazes: Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and capuchins (Cebus apella sp.) profit from experience differently

Dorothy M. Fragaszy, Erica Kennedy, Aeneas Murnane, Charles Menzel, Gene Brewer, Julie Johnson-Pynn, William Hopkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


We examined whether navigation is impacted by experience in two species of nonhuman primates. Five chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and seven capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella) navigated a cursor, using a joystick, through two-dimensional mazes presented on a computer monitor. Subjects completed 192 mazes, each one time. Each maze contained one to five choices, and in up to three of these choices, the correct path required moving the cursor away from the Euclidean direction toward the goal. Some subjects completed these mazes in a random order (Random group); others in a fixed order by ascending number of choices and ascending number of turns away from goal (Ordered group). Chimpanzees in both groups performed equivalently, demonstrated fewer errors and a higher rate of self-correcting errors with increasing experience at solving the mazes, and made significantly fewer errors than capuchin monkeys. Capuchins were more sensitive to the mode of presentation than chimpanzees; monkeys in the Ordered group made fewer errors than monkeys in the Random group. However, capuchins' performance across testing changed little, and they remained particularly susceptible to making errors when the correct path required moving away from the goal. Thus, these two species responded differently to the same spatial challenges and same learning contexts. The findings indicate that chimpanzees have a strong advantage in this task compared to capuchins, no matter how the task is presented. We suggest that differences between the species in the dynamic organization of attention and motor processes contribute to their differences in performance on this task, and predict similar differences in other tasks requiring, as this one does, sustained attention to a dynamic visual display and self-produced movements variably towards and away from a goal.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)491-504
Number of pages14
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Learning
  • Memory
  • Planning
  • Spatial problem-solving
  • Species differences
  • Vigilance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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