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Great apes distinguish true from false beliefs in an interactive helping task

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posted on 05.04.2017, 18:01 by David Buttelmann, Frances Buttelmann, Malinda Carpenter, Josep Call, Michael Tomasello

Understanding the behavior of others in a wide variety of circumstances requires an understanding of their psychological states. Humans’ nearest primate relatives, the great apes, understand many psychological states of others, for example, perceptions, goals, and desires. However, so far there is little evidence that they possess the key marker of advanced human social cognition: an understanding of false beliefs. Here we demonstrate that in a nonverbal (implicit) false-belief test which is passed by human 1-year-old infants, great apes as a group, including chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), bonobos (Pan paniscus), and orangutans (Pongo abelii), distinguish between true and false beliefs in their helping behavior. Great apes thus may possess at least some basic understanding that an agent’s actions are based on her beliefs about reality. Hence, such understanding might not be the exclusive province of the human species.