HOW MONKEYS SEE THE WORLD by Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M.Seyfarth

University of Chicago Press 1992. ISBN 0-226-10246-7

Cheney and Seyfarth started research on vervet monkeys as post doctoral fellows of Rockefeller University, an interest that was to lead to 13 years (1977-1990) of field work in the Amboseli National Park of Kenya and eventually this book.

The question is "How do monkeys see the world?" and the interesting answer of Cheney and Seyforth is that monkeys see and learn that A leads to B but don't know why. As they say,"An individual who cannot reflect upon his own knowledge to form hypotheses about what he knows, will almost by definition be unable to extend knowledge from one context to another".

This basic fact accounts for the lack of teaching of young monkeys. They have to learn by observation that A leads to B. The adult doesn't know that it knows anything so it is not surprising that it doesn't do any teaching. Monkeys live in a world of action and reaction without an understaqnding of what is happening.

Cheney and Seyfarth note that at least 70% of the deaths of vervet monkeys in Amboseli are from predation and that frequent predators are leopards and pythons. (top)

Consequently reactions to different alarm calls are tailored to meet the threat (leopard- run for a tree, python- stand on back legs and look around), but secondary signals indicating leopards or pythons that are clear to humans are lost to the vervets. They can't make a mental picture of the behavior of leopards or pythons and consequently fail to see the danger of a recent leopard kill (leopards nearby) or a fresh python track leading into a bush. They were observed on occasion to walk straight into the bush despite a very clear and fresh track indicating that the snake was there.

Their conclusion is mirrored in human development, where it is only at the relatively late age of 4-6 years that children can imagine another persons point of view (i.e. think in the abstract). This is shown in the important experiment by Wimmer and Penner (page 207) and seems to indicate that this is the developmental stage where monkeys and humans part company.

In my opinion this is a very valuable book, especially as the work was done over such along period and in the animals natural environment.

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