Capuchin monkeys learn to use information equally well from individual exploration and social demonstration

Donna Kean*, Elizabeth Renner, Mark Atkinson, Christine A Caldwell

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The limited evidence of complex culture in non-human primates contrasts strikingly with human behaviour. This may be because non-human primates fail to use information acquired socially as effectively as they use information acquired individually. Here, monkeys were trained on a stimulus discrimination task with a win-stay, lose-shift (WSLS) reward structure. In a social learning condition, the experimenter performed an information trial by choosing between the available stimuli; in an individual condition, monkeys made this choice themselves. The monkeys' subsequent test trials displayed the same stimulus array. They were rewarded for repetition of rewarded ('win-stay') and avoidance of unrewarded ('lose-shift') information trial selections. Nine monkeys reached our pre-determined performance criterion on the initial two-stimulus stage. Their ability to generalise the WSLS strategy was then evaluated by transfer to a three-stimulus stage. Minimal differences were found in information use between the social and individual conditions on two-stimuli. However, a bias was found towards repetition of the information trial, regardless of information source condition or whether the information trial selection was rewarded. Proficient subjects were found to generalise the strategy to three-stimuli following rewarded information trials, but performed at chance on unrewarded. Again, this was not found to vary by source condition. Overall, results suggest no fundamental barrier to non-human primates' use of information from a social source. However, the apparent struggle to learn from the absence of rewards hints at a difficulty with using information acquired from unsuccessful attempts; this could be linked to the limited evidence for cumulative culture in non-human primates.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalAnimal Cognition
VolumeFirst Online
Early online date5 Sept 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 5 Sept 2022


  • Individual learning
  • Touchscreen
  • Social learning
  • Non-human primates
  • Discrimination learning
  • Cumulative culture


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