Chimpanzees demonstrate individual differences in social information use

Stuart K. Watson, Gillian L. Vale, Lydia M. Hopper, Lewis G. Dean, Rachel L. Kendal, Elizabeth E. Price, Lara A. Wood, Sarah J. Davis, Steven J. Schapiro, Susan P. Lambeth, Andrew Whiten

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Studies of transmission biases in social learning have greatly informed our understanding of how behaviour patterns may diffuse through animal populations, yet within-species inter-individual variation in social information use has received little attention and remains poorly understood. We have addressed this question by examining individual performances across multiple experiments with the same population of primates. We compiled a data set spanning 16 social learning studies (26 experimental conditions) carried out at the same study site over a 12-year period, incorporating a total of 167 chimpanzees. We applied a binary scoring system to code each participant’s performance in each study according to whether they demonstrated evidence of using social information from conspecifics to solve the experimental task or not (Social Information Score – ‘SIS’). Bayesian binomial mixed effects models were then used to estimate the extent to which individual differences influenced SIS, together with any effects of sex, rearing history, age, prior involvement in research and task type on SIS. An estimate of repeatability found that approximately half of the variance in SIS was accounted for by individual identity, indicating that individual differences play a critical role in the social learning behaviour of chimpanzees. According to the model that best fit the data, females were, depending on their rearing history, 15-24% more likely to use social information to solve experimental tasks than males. However, there was no strong evidence of an effect of age or research experience, and pedigree records indicated that SIS was not a strongly heritable trait. Our study offers a novel, transferable method for the study of individual differences in social learning.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Cognition
VolumeIn press
Early online date19 Jun 2018
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Jun 2018


  • Chimpanzee
  • Culture
  • Social learning
  • Individual differences
  • Meta-analysis
  • sex differences


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