A potent effect of observational learning on chimpanzee tool construction

Elizabeth E Price, Susan P Lambeth, Steve J Schapiro, Andrew Whiten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3377-3383
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Volume276
Issue number1671
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 22 Sept 2009

Keywords

  • social learning
  • tool use
  • tool manufacture
  • video demonstration
  • chimpanzees
  • PAN-TROGLODYTES
  • WILD CHIMPANZEES
  • CULTURE
  • TRANSMISSION
  • TRADITIONS
  • ACQUISITION
  • BEHAVIORS
  • EVOLUTION
  • TERMITES
  • PRIMATES

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