Action Monitoring and Self-Identification
Couchman, Justin J.
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The sense of self-agency in humans results from monitoring the relationship between prior thoughts and action plans, sensorimotor information, and perceived outcomes. Rhesus monkeys ( Macaca mulatta ) have shown the ability to monitor their own memory and uncertainty states, but no studies have explored their ability to monitor mental states directly linked to self-agency. While one recent study has shown that neurologically altered rhesus monkeys appear to recognize themselves in a mirror, no cognitive test has directly assessed monkeys’ ability to identify their own self-generated movements. Converging evidence in comparative cognition suggests that monkeys have some awareness of their mental states and prefer to look at their own actions more than the actions of others, but direct cognitive and behavioral measures are required to determine the existence and extent of their understanding of self-agency. In Experiments 1 and 2, humans and rhesus monkeys, respectively, were trained to move a self-controlled computer cursor with a joystick while a distractor cursor partially matched their movements. They were then tested on their ability to identify the controlled cursor. In Experiments 3A and 3B, humans were trained to identify a self-controlled cursor that either moved normally or was left-right or up-down reversed. Experiments 4 and 5 tested the human and monkey ability to identify a self-controlled cursor in more complex situations with several different kinds of distractors. In all experiments, humans and monkeys demonstrated the ability to monitor and identify self-generated actions, suggesting that they are able to monitor the relationship among thoughts, actions, and perceived outcomes. Unlike many measures of self-awareness that rely on secondary behaviors such as glances, body-touches, or optional responses, in the reported paradigm the theoretically critical response is required for task success and thus may provide a direct measure of self-agency in rhesus monkeys.