Did Consciousness of Self Play a Part in the Behavior of the Monkey ?[1]

Edward J Kempf

THROUGHOUT several months of observation of the spontaneous behavior of six caged monkeys (Macacus rhesus), E's method of taking food from the others, more than any other acts observed, showed (1) a motive to perform an act, (2) hesitation and choice of method, (3) distinct efforts to disguise his wish, indicating a consciousness of either his wish or self, and (4) a degree of judgment in selecting the proper moment for his act.

When D, a rather slow monkey, and E were caged together, and a carrot was given to D when both monkeys were very hungry, D would usually climb to the platform or jump to the floor to reach the level unoccupied by E. E would watch D nervously eating his carrot and follow to the same level in the cage. D would promptly change to the other one. After several such attempts on the part of E with failure to approach, he would become more cautious and slowly climb to D's level at a good distance from D. E would keep his back turned toward D and watch his victim by occasionally looking over his shoulder. At the same time he usually scratched about in the sawdust before him as though he were looking for food. This act, seemingly of making D believe that he was looking for food, usually fooled D, who in his eagerness to eat would quit watching the harmless back of E. During this time E would be working back-wards toward D until within reaching distance of D's food. His method of working backwards toward his victim was interesting. He would play both hands about in the sawdust before him, apparently interested in scratching for food, although at the same time he repeatedly partly turned his head and glanced over his shoulder at the other monkey. All of this time he would slowly work back-ward toward his object. Sometimes he picked up accidentally uncovered pieces of food, but often he was so intent upon D that he failed to notice conspicuous bits of food. (The value of this pre-

( 411) -tended search for food as a disguise for his real intentions is more appreciated when one observes the social adjustment of monkeys. They are very quick to take advantage of the indifference of other monkeys toward their own wishes. Monkeys freely offer themselves as sexual objects to a stronger monkey in order to maintain possession of food, the sexual interest apparently causing the stronger monkey to forget his food interest.)

As soon as E drew near enough he would cautiously extend his hand toward the victim by playing it backward in the sawdust, or just reaching backward along his side. If the victim became uneasy he often retracted his hand partly or altogether. When D was not watching and E had extended his hand far enough so that the distance to reach would not permit sufficient time for D to escape or jerk the food aside, E would make a quick partial turn of his body and full extension of his arm and grab the food. The partly ex-tended arm made it easier and quicker to cover the remaining distance. Often he would hesitate, extend, retract the arm and apparently judge whether or not D was on guard, a condition apparently indicated by D's tendency to move, stop eating, or watch E.

E used this method or some modification of it almost entirely in taking food from the other monkeys. His method of scratching for food in the sawdust and of extending his arm backward without turning his body served to disguise his wishes. His behavior showed a wish, hesitation, and choice in the rapidity of approach and maneuvers and in the disguise of his motive which. usually misled his victim. If he grabbed too soon or too late his victim escaped because D and the others were more or less alert while biting and chewing their food, glancing up frequently. The estimated duration of these maneuvers would range from a half minute to several minutes.

B, C, and F quickly learned to understand E's trick and soon avoided his backward approaches, but the more stupid D never did fully understand E's strategy. The other monkeys would simply chase and catch the weaker food carrier. E was much quicker and stronger than D and could apparently have easily used their methods.

All the other behavioristic phenomena observed in this band of monkeys, although many were complicated and showed motives, hesitation, substitution, etc., could be understood completely without inferring that consciousness of self or better, consciousness and disguise of the motives, existed in the monkey.

Unfortunately E had learned his method before he came under observation. He was practically a matured Macacus rhesus.

If consciousness of self exists in the more highly developed monkeys, apes, children, and adults, does it add a constant variable which is a factor, an influence in spontaneous behavior that makes

( 412) it impossible accurately to determine all the quantitative or even qualitative responses to measurable stimuli of such animals?



  1. This study of the behavior of monkeys was made possible by a grant from the Carnegie Institution of Washington to Shepherd Ivory Franz, Scientific Director of the Government Hospital for the Insane

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