Executive-attentional uncertainty responses by rhesus macaques(Macaca mulatta)

J. David Smith, Mariana V.C. Coutinho, Barbara A. Church, Michael J. Beran

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)


The uncertainty response has been influential in studies of human perception, and it is crucial in the growing research literature that explores animal metacognition. However, the uncertainty response's interpretation is still sharply debated. The authors sought to clarify this interpretation using the dissociative technique of cognitive loads imposed on ongoing discrimination performance. Four macaques (Macaca mulatta) performed a sparse-dense discrimination within which an uncertainty response let them decline difficult trials or a middle response let them identify middle stimuli. Concurrent memory tasks were occasionally overlain on ongoing discrimination performance. The concurrent tasks disrupted macaques' uncertainty responses far more than their sparse, middle, or dense discrimination responses. This dissociation suggests that the uncertainty response is a higher level decisional response that is particularly dependent on working memory and attentional resources. This is consistent with the theoretical possibility that the uncertainty response is an elemental behavioral index of uncertainty monitoring or metacognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)458-475
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: General
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Attention
  • Executive fnction
  • Metacognition
  • Primate cognition
  • Uncertainty monitoring

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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