Chimpanzees use social information to acquire a skill they fail to innovate

Edwin J. C. van Leeuwen*, Sarah E. DeTroy, Daniel B. M. Haun, Josep Call

*Corresponding author for this work

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Cumulative cultural evolution has been claimed to be a uniquely human phenomenon pivotal to the biological success of our species. One plausible condition for cumulative cultural evolution to emerge is individuals’ ability to use social learning to acquire know-how that they cannot easily innovate by themselves. It has been suggested that chimpanzees may be capable of such know-how social learning, but this assertion remains largely untested. Here we show that chimpanzees use social learning to acquire a skill that they failed to independently innovate. By teaching chimpanzees how to solve a sequential task (one chimpanzee in each of the two tested groups, n = 66) and using network-based diffusion analysis, we found that 14 naive chimpanzees learned to operate a puzzle box that they failed to operate during the preceding three months of exposure to all necessary materials. In conjunction, we present evidence for the hypothesis that social learning in chimpanzees is necessary and sufficient to acquire a new, complex skill after the initial innovation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2024


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