A Project of the University of Pennsylvania and the John Templeton Foundation

Prospective memory in a language-trained chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes)

Published: November, 2012

Investigator(s): Other Investigator(s)

Researcher(s): Beran, M. J., Perdue, B. M., Bramlett, J. L., Menzel, C. R., Evans, T. A.


Prospective memory involves the encoding, retention, and implementation of an intended future action. Although humans show many forms of prospective memory, less is known about the future oriented processes of nonhuman animals, or their ability to use prospective memory. In this experiment, a chimpanzee named Panzee, who had learned to associate geometric forms called lexigrams with real-world referents, was given a prospective memory test. Panzee selected between two foods the one she wanted to receive more immediately. That food was scattered in an outdoor yard where she could forage for it. Also outdoors were lexigram tokens, one of which represented the food item that remained indoors throughout a 30 min period, and that could be obtained if Panzee brought in the token that matched that food item. After foraging for the selected food item, Panzee consistently remembered to retrieve and return the correct token when food was available indoors, whereas on control trials involving no indoor food she rarely returned a token. This indicated that Panzee encoded information relevant to the future action of token retrieval after extended delays for one type of food, even when a more immediately preferred food was available.

JTF grant funded: No