Repeated innovation in great apes

Hector Marin Manrique*, Christoph Johannes Voelter, Josep Call

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Innovation has been defined as a solution to a novel problem or a novel solution to an old problem. The second part of this definition requires the inhibition of previously learnt solution strategies before a novel solution can be found. Therefore, inventing novel solutions for an old problem is considered to be particularly difficult. We investigated the ability of great apes to produce multiple new solutions to a task after each of those solutions became obsolete. We presented all four nonhuman great ape species with a task consisting of extracting a food reward from a puzzle box. Initially, the task could be solved in three different ways that varied in difficulty. After subjects discovered the first solution, we allowed them to use it for some trials and then it became obsolete. If the apes could overcome their initial response and find the next solution, we again allowed them to use it for some time and once again it became obsolete. The final step consisted of finding the third solution to secure the food reward. We found that all species except orang-utans, Pongo abelii, were able to solve all versions of the problem. Furthermore, they overcame the obsolete techniques quickly and efficiently, indicating high degrees of behavioural flexibility and inhibitory control. In contrast to previous research on social learning, our results suggest that great apes are not conservative and adjust their behaviour flexibly when the physical constraints of a task change. (C) 2012 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-202
Number of pages8
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Volume85
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2013

Keywords

  • cognitive flexibility
  • great ape
  • inhibitory control
  • innovation
  • primates
  • prior knowledge
  • problem solving
  • puzzle box
  • CHIMPANZEES PAN-TROGLODYTES
  • ORANGUTANS PONGO-PYGMAEUS
  • GORILLA-GORILLA PERFORM
  • CUMULATIVE CULTURE
  • WILD CHIMPANZEES
  • CONTINGENCY TASK
  • BEHAVIOR
  • TOOL
  • QUANTITY
  • PANISCUS

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