Social learning of arbitrary food preferences in bonobos

Gladez Shorland, Emilie Genty, Jean-Pascal Guéry, Klaus Zuberbuhler

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5 Citations (Scopus)
13 Downloads (Pure)


A fruitful approach to investigate social learning in animals is based on paradigms involving the manipulation of artefacts. However, tool use and elaborate object manipulations are rare in natural conditions, suggesting that social learning evolved in other contexts where fitness consequences are higher, such as discriminating palatable from noxious foods, recognising predators or understanding social hierarchies. We focussed on one such context by investigating whether bonobos socially learned others’ arbitrary food preferences through mere observation. To this end, we trained two demonstrators to prefer or avoid distinctly coloured food items, treated with either a sweet or bitter agent. Demonstrators then displayed their newly acquired preferences in front of naïve subjects. In subsequent choice tests, subjects generally matched their choices to the demonstrators’ preferred food colours, despite having already tasted the equally palatable colour alternative. Both age and exposure to demonstrator preference had a significant positive effect on the proportion of matched choices. Moreover, in a context where errors can be costly, social learning was instant insofar as six of seven subjects used socially learned information to influence their very first food choice. We discuss these findings in light of the current debate on the evolution of social learning in animals.
Original languageEnglish
Article number103912
JournalBehavioural Processes
Early online date22 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2019


  • Cognition
  • Foraging
  • Nonhuman primate
  • Novel food
  • Pan paniscus
  • Social learning


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