A new study developed by researchers at Yale University has shown that monkeys have conscious visual experiences: like human beings, they are capable of separating subconscious or subliminal information from that which comes from conscious experiences.
According to a Press release, the presence of this double perceptual mechanism indicates that monkeys can consciously perceive the visual world, opening a new line of research that will seek to determine whether other non-human animals also possess the same capacity.
It is undoubted that when we appreciate a landscape or enjoy a sunset in the field, we live an experience that floods our senses and generates pleasure. But that experience is born in the visual information that we receive: something allows us to be aware of what we are seeing and, in this way, give it a concrete meaning. Is this condition exclusive to the human being?
Although until now the prevailing theories held that visual consciousness was the exclusive patrimony of the human species, little by little the evidence is showing the opposite, generating a paradigm shift. In the new study, the researchers found that rhesus macaque monkeys are aware of what they see.
A double perceptual path
To reach this conclusion, the scientists sought to verify whether there were changes in learning patterns in the monkeys according to the origin of the visual information received. It is known that in human beings there is a double perceptual pathway: the unconscious or subliminal and that related to conscious visual experiences. If they found this double process in monkeys, specialists could verify that these animals have a true visual consciousness.
It is known from various advances in the behavioral sciences and neurosciences that people can be influenced by unconscious subliminal signals. These are visual stimuli presented outside our threshold of consciousness, and that coexist with the information received in a conscious way.
Through an experiment carried out on both human volunteers and monkeys, the researchers were able to verify this characteristic. They applied a very simple test: the appearance of a visual signal within a group of images, which sometimes appeared in an obvious way and in others subliminally. Scientists were surprised to see the same patterns of responses in humans and monkeys.
Both species were quick to identify the signal when it was presented consciously, but had a more difficult time doing so if they relied on subliminal elements. Based on these results, the specialists concluded in their study that monkeys they also have a dual perceptual pathway and are consequently aware of what they see.
Also in other animals?
This difference in learning when stimuli are experienced consciously or unconsciously not only allowed scientists to check the ability in monkeys: it is also the starting point for the development of an effective method that makes it possible to verify this condition in other monkeys. species.
According to Moshe Shay Ben-Haim, lead author of the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “the results show that at least one non-human animal exhibits both non-conscious perception and specific human-like visual consciousness. We now have a new non-verbal method to assess whether other non-human creatures experience visual awareness in the same way we do, “he concluded.
Disentangling perceptual awareness from nonconscious processing in rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Moshe Shay Ben-Haim et al. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2017543118
Photo: Einar Fredriksen and Wikimedia Commons.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.