DOI: 10.3390/ani13172702 ISSN:

A Touchscreen-Based, Multiple-Choice Approach to Cognitive Enrichment of Captive Rhesus Macaques (Macaca mulatta)

Antonino Calapai, Dana Pfefferle, Lauren C. Cassidy, Anahita Nazari, Pinar Yurt, Ralf R. Brockhausen, Stefan Treue
  • General Veterinary
  • Animal Science and Zoology

Research on the psychological and physiological well-being of captive animals has focused on investigating different types of social and structural enrichment. Consequently, cognitive enrichment has been understudied, despite the promising external validity, comparability, and applicability. As we aim to fill this gap, we developed an interactive, multiple-choice interface for cage-mounted touchscreen devices that rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) can freely interact with, from within their home enclosure at the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory of the German Primate Center. The multiple-choice interface offers interchangeable activities that animals can choose and switch between. We found that all 16 captive rhesus macaques tested consistently engaged with the multiple-choice interface across 6 weekly sessions, with 11 of them exhibiting clear task preferences, and displaying proficiency in performing the selected tasks. Our approach does not require social separation or dietary restriction and is intended to increase animals’ sense of competence and agency by providing them with more control over their environment. Thanks to the high level of automation, our multiple-choice interface can be easily incorporated as a standard cognitive enrichment practice across different facilities and institutes working with captive animals, particularly non-human primates. We believe that the multiple-choice interface is a sustainable, scalable, and pragmatic protocol for enhancing cognitive well-being and animal welfare in captivity.

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