Color, shape, and number identity-nonidentity responding and concept formation in orangutans
Anderson, Ursula Simone
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The ability to recognize sameness among objects and events is a prerequisite for abstraction and forming concepts about what one has learned; thus, identity and nonidentity learning can be considered the backbone of higher-order human cognitive abilities. Discovering identity relations between the constituent properties of objects is an important ability that often characterizes the comparisons that humans make so it is important to devote attention to understanding how nonhuman primates process and conceptualize part-identity as well as whole-identity. Because the ability to generalize the results of learning is to what concepts ultimately reduce, the series of experiments herein first investigated responding to part-identity and -nonidentity and whole-identity and -nonidentity and then explored the generality of such learning to the formation of concepts about color, shape, and cardinal number. The data from Experiments 1, 2, and 3 indicated that the two orangutans learned to respond concurrently to color whole-identity and -nonidentity and they responded faster to color whole-identity. Additionally, both subjects learned to respond concurrently to color and shape part- and whole-identity and for the most part, it was easier for them to do so with color part- and whole-identity problems than shape part- and whole-identity problems. Further, their learned responses to color and shape part- and whole-identity fully transferred to novel color part-identity problems for both subjects and fully transferred to novel color and shape whole-identity problems for one orangutan. The data from Experiments 4, 5, and 6 showed that one subject learned to judge numerical identity when both irrelevant dimensions were cue-constant, but the subject did not do the same when one or more irrelevant dimensions were cue-ambiguous. Further, the subject's accuracy was affected by the numerical distance and the numerical total of comparisons during acquisition of the conditional discrimination. The subject subsequently formed a domain-specific concept about numerical identity as evinced by the transfer of learning to novel numerosities instantiated with novel, cue-constant element colors and shapes and novel numerosities instantiated with cue-constant, familiar element colors and shapes. Given the adaptive significance of using concepts, it is important to investigate if and how nonhuman primates form identity concepts for which they categorize or classify the stimuli around them. This dissertation provided evidence about the extent to which orangutans learned to respond to color, shape, and number identity and nonidentity and subsequent concept formation from such learning. The findings from this study will help in understanding the convergence and divergence in the expression abstraction in the primate phylogeny, thus, informing our understanding about the origins and mechanisms of cognition in human and nonhuman primates.