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A potent effect of observational learning on chimpanzee tool construction

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Bess Price


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Although tool use occurs in diverse species, its complexity may mark an important distinction between humans and other animals. Chimpanzee tool use has many similarities to that seen in humans, yet evidence of the cumulatively complex and constructive technologies common in human populations remains absent in free-ranging chimpanzees. Here we provide the first evidence that chimpanzees have a latent capacity to socially learn to construct a composite tool. Fifty chimpanzees were assigned to one of five demonstration conditions that varied in the amount and type of information available in video footage of a conspecific. Chimpanzees exposed to complete footage of a chimpanzee combining the two components to retrieve a reward learned to combine the tools significantly more than those exposed to more restricted information. In a follow-up test, chimpanzees that constructed tools after watching the complete demonstration tended to do so even when the reward was within reach of the unmodified components, whereas those that spontaneously solved the task (without seeing the modification process) combined only when necessary. Social learning, therefore, had a powerful effect in instilling a marked persistence in the use of a complex technique at the cost of efficiency, inhibiting insightful tool use.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Price EE, Lambeth SP, Schapiro SJ, Whiten A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Year: 2009

Volume: 276

Issue: 1671

Pages: 3377-3383

ISSN (print): 0962-8452

ISSN (electronic): 1471-2954

Publisher: The Royal Society Publishing


DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2009.0640


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