Primate cognition in captivity

David A. Leavens, Kim Bard

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The study of primates in captivity has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, researchers gain experimental control over such variables as the locations and timing of stimulus presentations. In principle, this permits high confidence in claims of relations between manipulated variables and responses. On the other hand, large differences in the specific ecologies of captive environments impose constraints on generalizations beyond the specific laboratories in which animals are tested. Here, the authors highlight some recent contributions to understanding primate cognition from work in captivity. The authors give special attention to the value of captive populations for understanding environmental influences on cognitive development, which is especially apparent and easily measured among captive primate populations. Primates adapt to the specific ecological circumstances of their direct experience, and this flexibility in developmental mechanisms across a range of rearing environments is not manifest in any single ontogenetic context, but requires consideration across diverse contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Oxford Handbook of Human Symbolic Evolution
EditorsNathalie Contier, Andy Lock, Chris Sinha
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2021


  • primate cognition
  • internal validity
  • external validity
  • ecological validity
  • comparative cognition


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