Do zoo visitors induce attentional bias effects in primates completing cognitive tasks?

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Sarah M Huskisson, Stephen R Ross, Lydia M Hopper
Animal Cognition
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While previous research has focused on the impact of visitors on zoo-housed animals’ behavior, here, we evaluated the impact of visitors on the performance of four zoo-housed Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) in a cognitive task. The macaques completed a touchscreen-based match-to-sample task in glass-sided booths at the perimeter of their enclosure, adjacent to a visitor viewing area. The task was novel to all macaques at the start of this study but over the 6-month testing period the macaques showed increased accuracy on the task, suggestive of learning. We recorded the number of visitors within the viewing area roughly every 12 trials each macaque completed. We categorized visitor counts as small (0–20), medium (21–40), and large (41–60) crowds and we considered the macaques’ response latencies and accuracy by crowd size and study period (first 3 months versus second 3 months). If visitor presence negatively influenced performance, we predicted that macaques’ accuracy would decrease but response times would increase with crowd size. We found effects of crowd size and study period on the macaques’ accuracy. In the first period, the macaques performed at chance and accuracy did not differ across crowd categories. In the second period, the macaques’ accuracy improved as compared to the first period, but their accuracy was mediated by crowd size: the macaques were significantly more accurate in the presence of small crowds than medium or large crowds. The macaques’ response latencies also varied by study period and crowd size, but we found no evidence of a response-slowing effect.


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