Tolerant macaque species are less impulsive and reactive

Louise Loyant*, Bridget Waller, Jerome Micheletta, Helene Meunier, Sébastien Ballesta, Marine Joly

*Corresponding author for this work

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Inhibitory control, the inhibition of impulsive behaviours, is believed to be key in navigating a complex social environment. Species characterised by higher social tolerance, living in more complex groups, with more diverse relationships, face higher uncertainty regarding the outcome of social interactions, and therefore, would benefit from employing more inhibitory strategies. To date, little is known about the selective forces that favour the evolution of inhibitory control. In this study, we compared inhibitory control skills in three closely related macaque species which differ in their social tolerance style. We tested 66 macaques from two institutions (Macaca mulatta, low tolerance; M. fascicularis, medium tolerance; and M. tonkeana, high tolerance) using a battery of validated inhibitory control touchscreen tasks. Higher social tolerance was associated with enhanced inhibitory control performances. More tolerant species were less impulsive and less distracted by pictures of unknown conspecifics. Interestingly, we did not find evidence that social tolerance degree was associated with performance in reversal learning. Overall, our results support the hypothesis that evolution has promoted the development of socio-cognitive skills to cope with the demands related to the complexity of the social environment.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAnimal Cognition
Early online date28 May 2023
Publication statusEarly online - 28 May 2023


  • cognition
  • evolution
  • sociality
  • executive function
  • non-human primates

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