Baboons (Papio papio), but not humans, break cognitive set in a visuomotor task


  • Pope Sarah M.
  • Meguerditchian Adrien
  • Hopkins William D.
  • Fagot Joël

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Cognitive set can be both helpful and harmful in problem solving. A large set of similar problems may be solved mechanically by applying a single-solution method. However, efficiency might be sacrificed if a better solution exists and is overlooked. Despite half a century of research on cognitive set, there have been no attempts to investigate whether it occurs in nonhuman species. The current study utilized a nonverbal, computer task to compare cognitive set between 104 humans and 15 baboons (Papio papio). A substantial difference was found between humans' and baboons' abilities to break cognitive set. Consistent with previous studies, the majority of humans were highly impaired by set, yet baboons were almost completely unaffected. Analysis of the human data revealed that children (aged 7-10) were significantly better able to break set than adolescents (11-18) and adults (19-68). Both the evolutionary and developmental implications of these findings are discussed.

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