Preliminary evidence for one-trial social learning of vervet monkey alarm calling

Adwait Deshpande*, Bas Van Boekholt, Klaus Zuberbuhler

*Corresponding author for this work

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How do non-human primates learn to use their alarm calls? Social learning is a promising candidate, but its role in the acquisition of meaning and call usage has not been studied systematically, neither during ontogeny nor in adulthood. To investigate the role of social learning in alarm call comprehension and use, we exposed groups of wild vervet monkeys to two unfamiliar animal models in the presence or absence of conspecific alarm calls. To assess the learning outcome of these experiences, we then presented the models for a second time to the same monkeys, but now without additional alarm call information. In subjects previously exposed in conjunction with alarm calls, we found heightened predator inspection compared to control subjects exposed without alarm calls, indicating one-trial social learning of ‘meaning’. Moreover, some juveniles (but not adults) produced the same alarm calls they heard during the initial exposure whereas the authenticity of the models had an additional effect. Our experiment provides preliminary evidence that, in non-human primates, call meaning can be acquired by one-trail social learning but that subject age and core knowledge about predators additionally moderate the acquisition of novel call-referent associations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number210560
Number of pages14
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 24 Aug 2022


  • Primate vocal communication
  • Predator recognition
  • Call comprehension
  • Meaning attribution
  • Playback experiment
  • Fast mapping


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