Spontaneous emergence, imitation and spread of alternative foraging techniques among groups of vervet monkeys

Erica van de Waal, Andrew Whiten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


Animal social learning has become a subject of broad interest, but demonstrations of bodily imitation in animals remain rare. Based on Voelkl and Huber's study of imitation by marmosets, we tested four groups of semi-captive vervet monkeys presented with food in modified film canisters (“aethipops’). One individual was trained to take the tops off canisters in each group and demonstrated five openings to them. In three groups these models used their mouth to remove the lid, but in one of the groups the model also spontaneously pulled ropes on a canister to open it. In the last group the model preferred to remove the lid with her hands. Following these spontaneous differentiations of foraging techniques in the models, we observed the techniques used by the other group members to open the canisters. We found that mouth opening was the most common technique overall, but the rope and hands methods were used significantly more in groups they were demonstrated in than in groups where they were not. Our results show bodily matching that is conventionally described as imitation. We discuss the relevance of these findings to discoveries about mirror neurons, and implications of the identity of the model for social transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere47008
Number of pages7
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 10 Oct 2012


  • Evolutionary biology
  • Birds
  • Chimpanzees Pan-Troglodytes
  • Culture
  • Animals
  • Mirror neurons
  • Mechanisms
  • Premotor Cortex


Dive into the research topics of 'Spontaneous emergence, imitation and spread of alternative foraging techniques among groups of vervet monkeys'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this