Science & Technology

Ingenious experiments show that monkeys experience the visual world as consciously as people do.

When humans look at visual landscapes such as sunsets and beautiful landscapes, we experience something — we are consciously aware of what the scene will look like. This perception of the visual world around us is central to our daily lives, but are humans the only species to consciously experience the world? Or do other non-human animals have the same conscious experience as we do?

Scientists and philosophers have been asking for versions of this question for thousands of years, but finding the answer, or even the proper way to ask the question, has proven elusive. However, a team of researchers at Yale University recently devised an ingenious way to solve this mystery.

On March 29 Minutes of the National Academy of Sciences, They claim that one non-human species, the rhesus monkey, is also consciously aware of the surrounding world.

“”People have long wondered if animals experience the world like us, but it was difficult to find a good way to empirically test this question, “said a postdoc at Yale University. Yes, paper.

Researchers have long known that people can be affected by unconscious subliminal cues — visual stimuli presented just outside the threshold of conscious consciousness are her. My colleague Steve Chan, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, and Lan Hassin of the Hebrew University.

“”When presented with subliminal stimuli, they tend to exhibit different learning patterns than consciously experienced stimuli or subliminal stimuli, “she says.

If a monkey exhibits the same “double dissociation” pattern as a human, it probably means that the monkey, like a human, experiences the stimuli presented above as a conscious visual experience.

Ben Haim, Santos, and their team have come up with a new way to investigate whether macaques make a difference in learning when the stimulus is experienced consciously and unconsciously.

In a series of experiments, monkeys and humans were asked to guess whether the target image would appear on the left or right side of the screen. Before the target appeared, participants received a visual signal (small star) on the other side of where the target would appear. Researchers have changed whether cues are presented above or below. When the cue was presented for a few seconds, the human participant successfully learned that the target would appear in the opposite location of the cue. However, when the cues were presented subliminally (fast enough to escape people’s conscious perception), participants showed different patterns of performance. They continued to select the subliminal signaled side and could not learn the rule that the signal predicted the other side.

Surprisingly, researchers found that monkeys showed exactly the same reaction patterns as humans. Like humans, macaques were able to see the location of the target well when the cues were consciously presented, but showed the opposite pattern of subliminal cues. This striking result suggests that monkeys, like humans, have two levels of processing, one of which needs to be conscious.

“”These results indicate that at least one non-human animal exhibits both unconscious perception and human-like conscious visual perception. “Ben Haim said. “We now have a new non-verbal way to assess whether other non-human creatures experience visual perception in the same way as humans.”

Reference: March 29, 2021 Minutes of the National Academy of Sciences..

Other authors of this treatise are Yarrow Dunham, Olga Dal-monte, and Nicholas Fagan of Yale.

Ingenious experiments show that monkeys experience the visual world as consciously as people do. Ingenious experiments show that monkeys experience the visual world as consciously as people do.

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