Jacob, G., Katti, H., Cherian, T. et al. 2021. A naturalistic environment to study visual cognition in unrestrained monkeys. eLife 10, e63816.
Macaque monkeys are widely used to study vision. In the traditional approach, monkeys are brought into a lab to perform visual tasks while they are restrained to obtain stable eye tracking and neural recordings. Here, we describe a novel environment to study visual cognition in a more natural setting as well as other natural and social behaviors. We designed a naturalistic environment with an integrated touchscreen workstation that enables high-quality eye tracking in unrestrained monkeys. We used this environment to train monkeys on a challenging same-different task. We also show that this environment can reveal interesting novel social behaviors. As proof of concept, we show that two naive monkeys were able to learn this complex task through a combination of socially observing trained monkeys and solo trial-and-error. We propose that such naturalistic environments can be used to rigorously study visual cognition as well as other natural and social behaviors in freely moving monkeys.