Do monkeys compare themselves to others?

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Social comparisons are a fundamental characteristic of human behaviour, yet relatively little is known about their evolutionary foundations. Adapting the co-acting paradigm from human research (Seta in J Pers Soc Psychol 42:281-291, 1982. doi: 10.1037//0022-3514.42.2.281 ), we examined how the performance of a partner influenced subjects' performance in long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis). Using parallel testing in touch screen setups in which subjects had to discriminate familiar and novel photographs of men and women, we investigated whether accuracy and reaction time were influenced by partner performance and relationship quality (affiliate vs. non-affiliate). Auditory feedback about the alleged performance of the co-actor was provided via playback; partner performance was either moderately or extremely better or worse than subject performance. We predicted that subjects would assimilate to moderately different comparison standards as well as to affiliates and contrast away from extreme standards and non-affiliates. Subjects instantly generalized to novel pictures. While accuracy was not affected by any of the factors, long reaction times occurred more frequently when subjects were tested with a non-affiliate who was performing worse, compared to one who was doing better than them (80 % quantile worse: 5.1, better: 4.3 s). For affiliate co-actors, there was no marked effect (worse: 4.4, better: 4.6 s). In a control condition with no auditory feedback, subjects performed somewhat better in the presence of affiliates (M = 77.8 % correct) compared to non-affiliates (M = 71.1 %), while reaction time was not affected. Apparently, subjects were sensitive to partner identity and performance, yet variation in motivation rather than assimilation and contrast effects may account for the observed effects.




Schmitt, V., Federspiel, I., Eckert, J., Keupp, S., Tschernek, L., Faraut, L., … Fischer, J. (2016). Do monkeys compare themselves to others? Animal Cognition, 19(2), 417–428.

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