Disentangling perceptual awareness from nonconscious processing in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta)

Moshe Shay Ben-Haim*, Olga Dal Monte, Nicholas A. Fagan, Yarrow Dunham, Ran R. Hassin, Steve W.C. Chang, Laurie R. Santos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations

Abstract

Scholars have long debated whether animals, which display impressive intelligent behaviors, are consciously aware or not. Yet, because many complex human behaviors and high-level functions can be performed without conscious awareness, it was long considered impossible to untangle whether animals are aware or just conditionally or nonconsciously behaving. Here, we developed an empirical approach to address this question. We harnessed a well-established cross-over double dissociation between nonconscious and conscious processing, in which people perform in completely opposite ways when they are aware of stimuli versus when they are not. To date, no one has explored if similar performance dissociations exist in a nonhuman species. In a series of seven experiments, we first established these signatures in humans using both known and newly developed nonverbal double-dissociation tasks and then identified similar signatures in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). These results provide robust evidence for two distinct modes of processing in nonhuman primates. This empirical approach makes it feasible to disentangle conscious visual awareness from nonconscious processing in nonhuman species; hence, it can be used to strip away ambiguity when exploring the processes governing intelligent behavior across the animal kingdom. Taken together, these results strongly support the existence of both nonconscious processing as well as functional human-like visual awareness in nonhuman animals.

Original languageAmerican English
Article numbere2017543118
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Volume118
Issue number15
DOIs
StatePublished - 13 Apr 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.

Keywords

  • Animal consciousness
  • Conscious and nonconscious perception
  • Double dissociation of awareness
  • Nonhuman primates
  • Visual awareness

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