Learning to Lift or Slide

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Science  08 Sep 2006:
Vol. 313, Issue 5792, pp. 1364
DOI: 10.1126/science.313.5792.1364d

Evidence for the cultural transmission of behaviors in nonhuman primates comes primarily from long-term observational histories of wild populations. To counter the criticism that theories derived from these data sets are inference-based, Horner et al. describe an experimental study demonstrating that a naïve chimpanzee can figure out how to forage for food by watching a skilled practitioner and can then serve as a tutor for a third individual, creating a chain of learning. They designed a “Doorian fruit” box from which food could be retrieved by either lifting or sliding a door. When untutored chimpanzees (or 3-year-old children in a parallel series of trials) were presented with the apparatus, about half discovered how to open the door, some by lifting it and others by sliding it (which required equally effortful actions). On the other hand, when socially compatible chimpanzees were allowed to play the roles of teacher and student in strictly binary interactions, the initial mode of foraging (lift versus slide) was faithfully passed along a chain of individuals (six and five, respectively); a similarly exclusive transmission of the original foraging technique (for acquiring a toy) was found in chains of eight children. — GJC

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 103, 13878 (2006).

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