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Funded by: MIUR - Ministero dell'Istruzione, dell'Università e della Ricerca (PRIN 2017, grant number 2017WH8B84)

Partners: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Sapienza Università di Roma

Web site:

Description: The complementary feeding period, i.e., when infants are introduced to foods and liquids different from milk, has lifelong consequences for health and well-being. Recently, there has been a rise in alternative complementary feeding approaches based on the infant signalling an interest in food, setting the pace and intake of the meal, and often eating independently, as opposed to the traditional way of offering infants specially-prepared pureed foods on a spoon. Here, we hypothesize that the early experience of independently choosing, manipulating, and chewing food within a positive family context, which characterizes alternative complementary feeding approaches, leads to better cognitive, motor, language, and self-regulation outcomes by two years of age, compared to the traditional complementary feeding approach. To test the above hypothesis, we will conduct a multi-method cohort study on 150 children, who will be longitudinally assessed at 4, 8, 12, and 24 months of age. This research will provide an evidence-based approach to complementary feeding, and will significantly contribute to the dissemination of information concerning healthy food habits and sustainability in food choice, as well as to the empowerment of new parents and to the education of professionals. 

Funded by: The Leakey Foundation

Partners: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

Description: Reciprocal cooperation is a prominent characteristic of primate behaviour, but its proximate bases have been largely neglected. In this project, we will investigate the role of advanced cognition in primate cooperation. We will test the ability of tufted capuchin monkeys to engage in calculated reciprocity, and will explore the role of self-control in constraining their ability to cooperate while facing a conflict of interests. First, we will test if cooperative behaviour in capuchins can be motivated by the expectation of reciprocation. Monkeys will be tested under conditions that allow or do not allow reciprocation. If what motivates monkeys to cooperate is the expectation of reciprocation, they will cooperate more under conditions that allow reciprocity. Second, we will test whether capuchins can adopt flexible strategies in a cooperative task that involves a conflict of interest, and the role of self-control. The task will simulate a Snowdrift Game in which the best strategy is to defect, but if both partners defect none gets any reward. During the test, two monkeys will pull a rope in order to obtain a reward for self and for a partner, but the relative size of the two rewards will depend on the experimental condition. An accumulation task will be used to measure self-control. If monkeys adapt flexibly to the cooperation task, their latency to pull the rope will vary with the experimental condition. If their success is constrained by their lack of self-control, latencies to pull will be modulated by self-control, as measured by the accumulation task. This project will contribute to understanding the extent to which human cooperativeness shares a motivational and cognitive basis with our close phylogenetic relatives.

Funded by: Progetto d’Interesse 2012-2014 del CNR

Partners: Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

Web site

Description: Il progetto è un’iniziativa della comunità scientifica nazionale accademica e industriale intorno ad un ampio programma di ricerca interdisciplinare basata sui più avanzati strumenti analitici oggi disponibili per la comprensione, la diagnosi, la cura e la prevenzione dei fenomeni degenerativi legati all’invecchiamento.

Funded by:  National Science Foundations, CNPq (Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico), FAPESP (Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo), Leakey Foundation, National Geographic, Ethoikos, and CNR (National Research Council)

Partners: University of São Paulo (Brazil), University of Georgia (Usa), Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology - CNR - Rome (Italy), Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences (Usa)

Description: The EthoCebus project studies the nut-cracking behaviour of wild bearded capuchin monkeys linving in Piauì, Brazil.

Since January 2005, the EthoCebus research project studies the behavior and ecology of wild bearded capuchin monkeys (Cebus libidinosus) in the open woodland habitat of Piauì, Brazil. These monkeys routinely use stones to pound open palm and other hard fruits with stone hammers and anvils. This behaviour is similar to that observed in the wild chimpanzees of West Africa. The EthoCebus project aims to understand the nut-cracking behaviour of capuchin monkeys in ecological, developmental, social, physical, and historical contexts. The EthoCebus project opens a new opportunity for the comparative study of complex tool use in non human primates and human early ancestors.

ico Bullet Scientific publications

ico Bullet Capuchins and media

bandiera italia I cebi, gli schiaccianoci del nuovo Millennio


Funded by: "Field of Focus 4: Self-Regulation and Regulation: Individuals and Organisations" Research Program by the University of Heidelberg

Partners: University of Heidelberg (Germany) and Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology - CNR - Roma (Italy)

Description: The present project addresses self-regulation in multiple facets. First, we focus on tool innovation as an indicator of self-regulatory behavior that is of considerable practical relevance to society.  Thereby we will not only consider precursors of this component of self-regulation in children from a developmental perspective, but also study its biological roots in capuchin monkeys from a comparative perspective. Second, we explore which aspects of self-regulation (divergent, convergent thinking, and executive functions) are critical for ontogenetic and phylogenetic emergence of innovation behavior, probably revealing deeper insights into how higher self-regulatory processes built up on more basic processes. 

Funded by: the European Community, 7th Framework Programme

Partners: Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology - CNR - Roma (Italy), Università Campus Bio-Medico (Italy), University of Sheffield (UK), Goethe University (Germany), University of Ulster (UK), Aberystwyth University (UK), Istituto Dalle Molle per l’Intelligenza Artificiale (Switzerland)

Web site

Description: IM-CLeVeR aims to develop a new methodology for designing robots that can cumulatively learn new efficient skills through autonomous development based on intrinsic motivations, and reuse such skills for accomplishing multiple, complex, and externally-assigned tasks.

IM-CLeVeR aims to develop a new methodology for designing robots that can cumulatively learn new efficient skills through autonomous development based on intrinsic motivations, and reuse such skills for accomplishing multiple, complex, and externally-assigned tasks. During skill-acquisition, the robots will behave like children at play who acquire skills autonomously on the basis of “intrinsic motivations”. During skill-exploitation, the robots will exhibit fast learning capabilities and a high versatility in solving tasks defined by external users due to their capacity of flexibly re-using, composing and readapting previously acquired skills. This overall goal is pursued investigating three fundamental scientific and technological issues: the mechanisms of abstraction of sensory information; the mechanisms underlying intrinsic motivations (e.g. curiosity drives); hierarchical recursive architectures which permit cumulative learning. The study of these issues is also fuelled by a reverse-engineering effort aiming at reproducing with bio-mimetic models the results of empirical experiments run with monkeys, children, and human adults thanks to the collaboration of an interdisciplinary consortium involving leading international neuroscientists, psychologists, primatologists, roboticists and machine-learning researchers.

ico Bullet Scientific publications

bandiera italia IM-CleVeR: creare un robot che impara come un bambino


Funded by: American Society of Primatologists

PI: Dr. Elsa Addessi co-PI: Fabio Paglieri

Timeframe: 2009-2010

Description: This project aimed to provide a fair comparison of human and nonhuman primates’ ability of delaying gratification and to test a novel hypothesis on the effect of reward types on impulsivity, the Consumption-based Discounting Hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, people may discount future utility taking as reference point the expected time of consumption of a given resource rather than its expected time of acquisition. Thus, the greater impulsivity observed in humans with food than with money might be due to the difference between food and money in terms of expected time of consumption. 

In Experiment 1 capuchins were tested in an intertemporal choice task with an adjusting delay procedure and showed a considerable delay tolerance, higher than that of closely related species such as marmosets and tamarins and comparable to that shown by bonobos and chimpanzees. The ability of spontaneously using tools shown by several capuchin populations might explain their comparatively high preference for delayed options in the intertemporal choice task.

In Experiment 2 we presented both capuchins and humans with a series of choices between a small immediate option and a large delayed option with three types of rewards: (i) primary rewards (2 vs. 6 pieces of food, Food delay condition), (ii) secondary rewards (one low-value token, exchangeable for two pieces of food, vs. one high-value token, exchangeable for six pieces of food tokens, Token delay condition), and (iii) “packed” primary rewards (food rewards provided inside a transparent box, which cannot be consumed until the box is opened, Food box condition). Moreover, we presented humans with: (iv) food rewards that could be consumed only at the end of the experiment (Food-to-be-stored condition), and (v) 20 cents available immediately vs. 60 s available after 80 s money (Money delay condition).

On the basis of the Consumption-based Discounting Hypothesis, we expected both humans and capuchins to choose the larger delayed reward more in the Food box or in the Token delay condition than in the Food delay condition, thus proving that consumption times play a key role in determining impulsivity. However, contrary to what we expected, capuchins chose the larger delayed reward more in the Food delay condition than in the Token delay condition, and in humans we observed the same pattern, although the difference was not significant. Moreover, in both populations delayed consumption times (in the Food box condition, or in the Food-to-be-stored condition) did not increase the choice of the larger delayed option.

Nonetheless, although in the opposite direction to that predicted by the Consumption-based Discounting Hypothesis, tokens influenced capuchins’ choices in the intertemporal choice task, in that they significantly reduced the choices for the larger delayed option compared to food rewards. Given that in the intertemporal choice task subjects’ preferences are affected by both the quantity and the delay of the options, it can be hypothesized that the preference for the larger delayed option is partly due to an impulsive preference for the quantity rather than to a high tolerance to delay. 

Funded by: European Science Foundation

Partners: Central European University (Hungary), Santa Fe Institute and University of Sienna (Usa), Eötvös University (Hungary), Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies - CNR - Rome (Italy), Université Pierre et Marie Curie (France), Universitat Pompeu Fabra (Spain), University of Zürich (Switzerland), Oxford University (UK), University College London (UK), UK Fellow of Kings College (UK)

Timeframe: 2007-2010

Web site:

Description: the project investigated the nature and evolution of cooperation in humans and animals.

Despite the fact that human cooperation has always been a central concern of biology and human behavioural sciences, there is currently no accepted model to explain its fundamental mechanisms and evolution in the human species. Contemporary evidence from neuroscience, behavioural genetics and behavioural game theory suggests that while the behavioural disciplines (biology, economics, anthropology, psychology, and sociology) have made major contributions to understanding cooperation, each ignores a key part of the overall picture. The nature of cooperation is such that it does not break down into independent parts susceptible to isolated analysis by specific disciplines and for this reason the SOCCOP project had a trans-disciplinary strategy.

 ico Bullet Scientific publications

bandiera italia  Alle origini della cooperazione umana

Funded by: the European Community, 6th Framework Programme

Partners: Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies - CNR - Rome (Italy), University of London (UK), INCM-CNRS (France), University of Portsmouth (UK), MPI-EVA (Germany), Lund University (Sweden)

Timeframe: 2005-2008

Web site:

Description: the project investigated the developmental and comparative distribution of sign use to determine what makes humans unique in the animal kingdom.

Research in the last decades has established significant continuities between humans and non human species, particularly primates. Nevertheless, when it comes to determining what makes humans unique, it is often claimed that there is one ability – language – that makes human beings special. However, it could be argued that there are more basic differences between our species and others. The main hypothesis of the project SEDSU is that it is not language per se, but an advanced ability to engage in sign use that constitutes the characteristic feature of human beings. In particular, this implies the ability to differentiate between the sign itself, be it gesture, picture, word or abstract symbol, and what it represents, i.e. the sign function, and thus to use (the same) sign systems for both communication and cognition. The aim of the project was to investigate the developmental and comparative distribution of sign use thanks to the collaboration of an interdisciplinary research group involving developmental and cognitive psychologists, linguists, philosophers, primatologists, and semioticians.

 ico Bullet Scientific publications

bandiera italia  L'uso nei segni nei primati umani e non umani

Funded by: the European Community, 6th Framework Programme

Partners: New Bulgarian University (coordinator), Cambridge University (UK), University of Heidelberg (Germany), University of London (UK), Université de Bourgogne (France), University College Dublin (Ireland), Institute of Cognitive Science and Technology - CNR - Roma (Italy), University of Athens (Greece), Birkbeck College, University of British Columbia (Canada)

Timeframe: 2006-2010

Description: the project ANALOGY focused on understanding the mechanisms of analogy-making, exploring their evolution and development.
An international research team has compared the performance of non human primates, infants, young children, healthy adults, as well as children and adults with abnormal brain functioning. An interdisciplinary methodology including computational modeling, psychological experimentation, comparative studies, developmental studies and brain imaging has been used to pursue this goal. The ability to make analogies enables humans to engage in complex mental processes such as thinking, categorization and learning. According to some authors, non human animals lack true analogical reasoning. They claim that relational language is necessary for the acquisition of this ability, as suggested by the fact that the first evidence for analogy-making capacity in animals comes from language trained chimpanzees or chimpanzees trained with non-linguistic symbols. However, it is possible that analogy-making did not emerge abruptly in our species or in apes, and that its precursors are present also in monkeys.

ico Bullet Scientific publications

bandiera italia  Il ragionamento analogico nei cebi


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