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Keywords:

  • cognitive stress;
  • emotions;
  • chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes);
  • scratching;
  • self-directed behaviors;
  • displacement activities

Abstract

In primates, including humans, scratching and other self-directed behaviors (SDBs) have recently been reported to be differentially displayed as a function of social interactions, anxiety-related drugs, and response outcomes during learning tasks. Yet few studies have focused on the factors influencing SDBs in our closest living relatives, the chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Furthermore, no previous experimental study has examined handedness of SDBs as a function of changes in task difficulty. Using matching-to-sample tasks of varying difficulty, the present study examines the effect of manipulations of task difficulty on rates, handedness, and type of SDBs in an experimental study of eight chimpanzees. SDBs were categorized as rubs, gentle scratches, and rough scratches. SDBs increased during difficult discriminations, but only for subjects who started the experiment on an easy discrimination; subjects who started on a difficult discrimination exhibited no differential rates of SDBs as a function of task difficulty. There was a tendency to exhibit relatively more SDBs with the right hand in the more difficult task. Rates of SDBs decreased after auditory feedback signals, suggesting a link between SDBs and uncertainty. Rubs were directed more to the face (trigeminal), and gentle and rough scratches more to the body (spinothalamic), suggesting that face-directed SDBs may index a different motivational basis than scratches. Taken together, these results extend previous research on SDBs to the domain of cognitive stress in nonsocial contexts, demonstrating that SDBs are sensitive to manipulations of task difficulty in chimpanzees. Am. J. Primatol. 55:1–14, 2001. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.