Perdue, B. M., Beran, M. J., Washburn, D. A. 2018. A computerized testing system for primates: Cognition, welfare, and the Rumbaughx. Behavioural Processes 156, 37-50.
Innovations in apparatus technology come about for a variety of reasons such as the need to use the same methodology with various species, the opportunity to present dynamic and carefully controlled stimuli, the goal of using automation to make data collection more precise or efficient, and the need to control for and/or eliminate the presence of experimenters in the testing context. At the Language Research Center (LRC) of Georgia State University, a computer-based system has been developed and used extensively with nonhuman primate species. This system involves the animal working in an enclosure that provides visual access to a computer screen, access to a joystick to control a cursor on the screen, and access to a food dish where pellets are delivered for correct responses. Here we will describe the history and development of this system as well as some considerations that might be applied to expanding this apparatus to a new environment, including the mobility of test stations, equipment needs, training protocols, and the cost and considerations for initial set up of such a system. A variety of computer based programs have been developed for use with this system. These programs have allowed insight into many nonhuman primate cognitive abilities and we highlight some that have been the focus of study at the LRC such as metacognition, numerical cognition, inhibitory processes, prospective memory, attention, and cognitive control. In addition, this cognitive testing apparatus has been shown to create a stimulating and enriching environment for the animals. We advocate that the computerized testing apparatus is useful for advancing our understanding of nonhuman animal cognition and may be uniquely suited to optimizing animal welfare. This area of research is already rapidly expanding in zoos, and we hope to offer some insight from one journey of designing, implementing and adapting a computerized testing paradigm.