Age effects on transfer index performance and executive control in baboons (Papio papio)


  • Bonte Élodie
  • Kemp Caralyn
  • Fagot Joël


  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Inhibition
  • Cognition
  • Non-human primate
  • Evolution

document type



Reversal performance in the transfer index (TI) task is known to improve from prosimians to apes, suggesting that this task is a marker of cognitive evolution within the primate taxa (Rurnbaugh, 1970). However, the cognitive processes recruited by this task remain unclear. In the present study, 19 socially-housed baboons (Papio papio) from 1.6 to 14.3 years of age were tested on a computerized version of the TI task, using an automated self-testing procedure. Age was a significant factor in the level of success, with the younger baboons outperforming the adults. The younger baboons learned the pre-reversal discrimination faster and improved their post-reversal performance more rapidly than adult baboons. As 17 of these baboons had already been tested in previous studies on inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility tasks, comparison across tasks provide indicators of the underlying cognitive processes. Age variations in performance were similar between the TI task and in an adaptation of the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) measuring cognitive flexibility (Bente et al., 2011). This contrasts previous results from a task requiring motor inhibitory control (Fagot et al., 2011). Therefore, these findings suggest that cognitive flexibility was a central component of the cognitive system that evolved within non-human primates. They also implicate a decline in executive control with age that begins during early adulthood in this baboon species.

more information