Macaque Monkeys Can Learn Token Values from Human Models through Vicarious Reward

Sara Bevacqua, Erika Cerasti, Rossella Falcone, Milena Cervelloni, Emiliano Brunamonti, Stefano Ferraina, Aldo Genovesio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Monkeys can learn the symbolic meaning of tokens, and exchange them to get a reward. Monkeys can also learn the symbolic value of a token by observing conspecifics but it is not clear if they can learn passively by observing other actors, e.g., humans. To answer this question, we tested two monkeys in a token exchange paradigm in three experiments. Monkeys learned token values through observation of human models exchanging them. We used, after a phase of object familiarization, different sets of tokens. One token of each set was rewarded with a bit of apple. Other tokens had zero value (neutral tokens). Each token was presented only in one set. During the observation phase, monkeys watched the human model exchange tokens and watched them consume rewards (vicarious rewards). In the test phase, the monkeys were asked to exchange one of the tokens for food reward. Sets of three tokens were used in the first experiment and sets of two tokens were used in the second and third experiments. The valuable token was presented with different probabilities in the observation phase during the first and second experiments in which the monkeys exchanged the valuable token more frequently than any of the neutral tokens. The third experiments examined the effect of unequal probabilities. Our results support the view that monkeys can learn from non-conspecific actors through vicarious reward, even a symbolic task like the token-exchange task.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere59961
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 27 2013
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General


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