Feature versus spatial strategies by orangutans (pongo abelii) and human children (Homo sapiens) in a cross-dimensional task

Heidi L. Marsh*, Laura Adams, Catherine Floyd, Suzanne E. MacDonald

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)


Despite the fact that photographic stimuli are used across experimental contexts with both human and nonhuman subjects, the nature of individuals' perceptions of these stimuli is still not well understood. In the present experiments, we tested whether three orangutans and 36 human children could use photographic information presented on a computer screen to solve a perceptually corresponding problem in the physical domain. Furthermore, we tested the cues that aided in this process by pitting featural information against spatial position in a series of probe trials. We found that many of the children and one orangutan were successfully able to use the information cross-dimensionally; however, the other two orangutans and almost a quarter of the children failed to acquire the task. Species differences emerged with respect to ease of task acquisition. More striking, however, were the differences in cues that participants used to solve the task: Whereas the orangutan used a spatial strategy, the majority of children used a feature one. Possible reasons for these differences are discussed from both evolutionary and developmental perspectives. The novel results found here underscore the need for further testing in this area to design appropriate experimental paradigms in future comparative research settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-141
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 07 Aug 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Children
  • Cross-dimension
  • Feature strategy
  • Orangutans
  • Spatial strategy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

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