Do Non-Human Primates Really Represent Others’ Beliefs?

Daniel J. Horschler, Evan L. MacLean, Laurie R. Santos

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Over two decades of research have produced compelling evidence that non-human primates understand some psychological states in other individuals but are unable to represent others’ beliefs. Recently, three studies employing anticipatory looking (AL) paradigms reported that non-human primates do show hints of implicitly understanding the beliefs of others. However, measures of AL have been increasingly scrutinized in the human literature owing to extensive replication problems. We argue that new reports of belief representation in non-human primates using AL should be interpreted cautiously because of methodological and theoretical challenges paralleling trends in the human literature. We explore how future work can address these challenges, and conclude by identifying new evolutionary questions raised by the prospect that non-human primates implicitly represent others’ beliefs without an explicit belief representation system that guides fitness-relevant behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)594-605
Number of pages12
JournalTrends in Cognitive Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2020


  • anticipatory looking
  • belief representation
  • cognitive development
  • comparative cognition
  • mental states
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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