Coleman, K., Houser, L. A., Maier, A. 2013. Improving the efficiency of positive reinforcement training for non-human primates. American Journal of Primatology 75(S1), 66. (36th Meeting of the American Society of Primatologists Scientific Program, Abstract #115)
There are many benefits of positive reinforcement training (PRT). PRT reduces stress for subjects and as such is a significant refinement to animal care practices. However, training can be time intensive, and not all animals easily learn tasks, which may preclude its use in some facilities. We examined ways to help improve the efficacy of PRT for nonhuman primates. In one study, we examined whether temperament, specifically inhibited exploratory behavior can predict trainability in cynomolgus macaques, Macaca fascicularis. We measured temperament using a simple novel object test in 20 adult, female macaques, and then trained them to touch a target, a simple training task. Exploratory animals touched the target significantly sooner than inhibited animals (U=18.5, p=0.01). These results are similar to those previously found for rhesus macaques (Coleman et al., 2005) and suggest that using a simple temperament test can identify individuals with an increased likelihood of training success. In a second study, we examined ways to reduce training time, We trained 8 female rhesus macaques, M. mulatta (i.e., demonstrators) to touch a target. We then trained 8 conspecifics located directly across from them (i.e., observers) for the same task. Observers touched the target significantly sooner than demonstrators (U=49.5, p=0.03), suggesting that such observational learning may help reduce training time. Finding ways to increase training efficacy may increase its use in research facilities.