Field experiments with wild primates reveal no consistent dominance-based bias in social learning

Jennifer Botting, Andrew Whiten, Mathilde Grampp, Erica van de Waal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
2 Downloads (Pure)


Directed social learning suggests that information flows through social groups in a nonrandom way, with individuals biased to obtain information from certain conspecifics. A bias to copy the behaviour of more dominant individuals has been demonstrated in captive chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, but has yet to be studied in any wild animal population. To test for this bias using a field experiment, one dominant and one low-ranking female in each of three groups of wild vervet monkeys, Chlorocebus aethiops pygerythrus, was trained on alternative methods of opening an ‘artificial fruit’. Following 100 demonstrations from each model, fruits that could be opened either way were presented to each group and all openings were recorded. Overall, the dominant females were not attended to more than low-ranking females during the demonstrations, nor were their methods preferentially used in the test phase. We conclude that these monkeys show no overall bias to copy high-ranking models that would lead to a high-ranking model's behaviour becoming more prevalent in the group than a behaviour demonstrated by a low-ranking model. However, by contrast, there were significant effects of observer monkeys' rank and sex upon the likelihood they would match the dominant model. Additionally we found that the dominant models were more likely to stick to their initially learned method than were low-ranking models.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Early online date28 Dec 2017
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018


  • Dominance-based bias
  • Field experiment
  • Social attention
  • Social learning biases
  • Vervet monkey


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