Implicit and explicit category learning by macaques (Macaca mulatta) and humans (Homo sapiens)

J. David Smith*, Michael J. Beran, Matthew J. Crossley, Joseph Boomer, F. Gregory Ashby

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

61 Citations (Scopus)


An influential theoretical perspective differentiates in humans an explicit, rule-based system of category learning from an implicit system that slowly associates different regions of perceptual space with different response outputs. This perspective was extended for the 1st time to the category learning of nonhuman primates. Humans (Homo sapiens) and macaques (Macaca mulatta) learned categories composed of sine-wave gratings that varied across trials in bar width and bar orientation. The categories had either a single-dimensional, rule-based solution or a two-dimensional, information-integration solution. Humans strongly dimensionalized the stimuli and learned the rule-based task far more quickly. Six macaques showed the same performance advantage in the rule-based task. In humans, rule-based category learning is linked to explicit cognition, consciousness, and declarative reports about the contents of cognition. These results demonstrate an empirical continuity between human and nonhuman primate cognition, suggesting that nonhuman primates may have some structural components of humans' capacity for explicit cognition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)54-65
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • category learning
  • implicit– explicit cognition
  • primate cognition
  • comparative cognition
  • rhesus monkeys


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