Vol 9, Issue 4, November 2022

The Evolution of Primate Short-Term Memory


ManyPrimates, Aguenounoun, G., Allritz, M., Altschul, D. M., Ballesta, S. Beaud, A., Bohn, M., Bornbusch, S. L., Brandão, A., Brooks, J., Bugnyar, T., Bustamante, L., Call, J., Canteloup, C., Caspar, K. R., de Sousa, A. A., DeTroy, S. E., Eppley, T. M., Fichtel, C., Fischer, J., Gong, C., Grange, J. A., Grebe, N. M., Hanus, D., Haus, D., Haux, L. M., Héjja-Brichard, Y., Helman, A., Hernadi, I., Hernandez-Aguilar, R. A., Hermann, E., Hopper, L. M., Howard, L. H., Huang, L., Huskisson, S. M., Jacobs, I., Jin, Z., Joly, M., Kani, F., Keupp, S., Kiefer, E., Knakker, B., Kóczán, K., Kraus, L., Kwok, S. C., Lefrançois, M., Lewis, L., Liu, S., Llorente, M., Lonsdorf, E., Loyant, L., Majecka, K., Maurits, L., Meunier, H., Mobili, F., Morino, L., Motes-Rodrigo, A., Nijman, V., Ihomi, C. N., Persson, T., Pietraszewski, D., Parrish, J. F. R., Roig, A., Sánchez-Amaro, A., Sato, Y., Sauciuc, G-A., Schrock, A. E., Schweinfurth, M. K., Seed, A., Shearer, C. L., Šlipogor, V., Su, Y., Sutherland, K., Tan, J., Taylor, D., Troisi, C. A., Völter, C. J., Warren, E., Watzek, J., Zablocki-Thomas, P. (2022). The evolution of primate short-term memory. Animal Behavior and Cognition, 9(4), 428-516. https://doi.org/10.26451/abc.


Short-term memory is implicated in a range of cognitive abilities and is critical for understanding primate cognitive evolution. To investigate the effects of phylogeny, ecology and sociality on short-term memory, we tested the largest and most diverse primate sample to date (421 non-human primates across 41 species) in an experimental delayed-response task. Our results confirm previous findings that longer delays decrease memory performance across species and taxa. Our analyses demonstrate a considerable contribution of phylogeny over ecological and social factors on the distribution of short-term memory performance in primates; closely related species had more similar short-term memory abilities. Overall, individuals in the branch of Hominoidea performed better compared to Cercopithecoidea, who in turn performed above Platyrrhini and Strepsirrhini. Interdependencies between phylogeny and socioecology of a given species presented an obstacle to disentangling the effects of each of these factors on the evolution of short-term memory capacity. However, this study offers an important step forward in understanding the interspecies and individual variation in short-term memory ability by providing the first phylogenetic reconstruction of this trait’s evolutionary history. The dataset constitutes a unique resource for studying the evolution of primate cognition and the role of short-term memory in other cognitive abilities.


Cognitive evolution, Short-term memory, Primate cognition, Phylogenetic analysis