Inhibitory control and cue relevance modulate chimpanzees’ (Pan troglodytes) performance in a spatial foraging task

Christoph J. Völter*, Brandon Tinklenberg, Josep Call, Amanda M. Seed

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inhibition tasks usually require subjects to exert control to act correctly when a competing action plan is prepotent. In comparative psychology, one concern about the existing inhibition tasks is that the relative contribution of inhibitory control to performance (as compared to learning or object knowledge) is rarely explicitly investigated. We addressed this problem by presenting chimpanzees with a spatial foraging task in which they could acquire food more efficiently by learning which objects were baited. In Experiment 1, we examined how objects that elicited a prepotent approach response, transparent cups containing food, affected their learning rates. Although showing an initial bias to approach these sealed cups with visible food, the chimpanzees learned to avoid them more quickly across sessions compared to a color discrimination. They also learned a color discrimination more quickly if the incorrect cups were sealed such that a piece of food could never be hidden inside them. In Experiment 2, visible food of 2 different types was sealed in the upper part of the cups: 1 type signaled the presence of food reward hidden underneath; the cups with the other type were sealed. The chimpanzees learned more quickly in a congruent condition (the to-be-chosen food cue matched the reward) than in an incongruent condition (the to-be-avoided food cue matched the reward). Together, these findings highlight that performance in inhibition tasks is affected by several other cognitive abilities such as object knowledge, memory, and learning, which need to be quantified before meaningful comparisons can be drawn.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
VolumeAdvance online
Early online date24 Mar 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 24 Mar 2022


  • Animal Learning
  • Comparative Psychology
  • Reinforcement
  • Cognitive Control
  • Executive Function
  • Animal Foraging Behavior
  • Chimpanzees
  • Rewards


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