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Prospective memory is remembering to do something at a future time. A growing body of research supports that prospective memory may exist in nonhuman animals, but the methods used to test nonhuman prospective memory differ from those used with humans. The current work tests prospective memory in chimpanzees using a method that closely approximates a typical human paradigm. In these experiments, the prospective memory cue was embedded within an ongoing task. Tokens representing food items could be used in one of two ways: in a matching task with pictures of items (the ongoing task) or to request a food item hidden in a different location at the beginning of the trial. Chimpanzees had to disengage from the ongoing task in order to use the appropriate token to obtain a higher preference food item. In Experiment 1, chimpanzees effectively matched tokens to pictures, when appropriate, and disengaged from the ongoing task when the token matched the hidden item. In Experiment 2, performance did not differ when the target item was either hidden or visible. This suggested no effect of cognitive load on either the prospective memory task or the ongoing task, but performance was near ceiling, which may have contributed to this outcome. In Experiment 3, we created a more challenging version of the task. More errors on the matching task occurred before the prospective memory had been carried out, and this difference seemed to be limited to the hidden condition. This finding parallels results from human studies and suggests that working memory load and prospective memory may have a similar relationship in nonhuman primates.


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PLoS ONE 9(11): e112015. doi:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.