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Great apes anticipate that other individuals will act according to false beliefs

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Science  07 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6308, pp. 110-114
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaf8110

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Apes understand false beliefs

We humans tend to believe that our cognitive skills are unique, not only in degree, but also in kind. The more closely we look at other species, however, the clearer it becomes that the difference is one of degree. Krupenye et al. show that three different species of apes are able to anticipate that others may have mistaken beliefs about a situation (see the Perspective by de Waal). The apes appear to understand that individuals have different perceptions about the world, thus overturning the human-only paradigm of the theory of mind.

Science, this issue p. 110; see also p. 39

Abstract

Humans operate with a “theory of mind” with which they are able to understand that others’ actions are driven not by reality but by beliefs about reality, even when those beliefs are false. Although great apes share with humans many social-cognitive skills, they have repeatedly failed experimental tests of such false-belief understanding. We use an anticipatory looking test (originally developed for human infants) to show that three species of great apes reliably look in anticipation of an agent acting on a location where he falsely believes an object to be, even though the apes themselves know that the object is no longer there. Our results suggest that great apes also operate, at least on an implicit level, with an understanding of false beliefs.

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