Franklin, A. N., Martin, A. L., Brennan, C. R. et al. 2018. A comparison of desensitization techniques to train rhesus macaques to take food from a human. American Journal of Primatology 80(S1), 13 (40th Meeting of the American Society of Primatologists Scientific Program, Abstract #5).
Some primates express fear of or avoid interaction with humans, including accepting food. Counter‐conditioning training designed to reduce fear and increase the acceptance of food from a person's hand can reduce the stress an animal experiences and serve as a foundation for training other behaviors through positive reinforcement techniques. Counter‐conditioning techniques were compared among 16 rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) being taught to accept food from a person's hand. Animals were randomly assigned to the control, desensitization, positive reinforcement, or negative reinforcement condition. The positive and negative reinforcement conditions combined desensitization with reinforcement components, including either giving additional food or leaving the room when the animal met criteria for accepting food. Although a Kruskal‐Wallis test showed no significant difference in the rate at which subjects progressed through training across the conditions (H = 5.974, p=.113) with our modest sample size, visual examination of the data revealed interesting trends. There seem to be more consistent training results in the positive reinforcement condition with three of four animals consistently accepting food directly from the person's hand at the end of eight training sessions, compared with zero or one animal in each of the other conditions. Additional subjects and other methodological improvements could strengthen the findings, but these preliminary results are encouraging as they indicate some of these techniques may be successful in efficiently reducing fear in rhesus macaques.