Here's one I made earlier: Chimps learn from watching videos

Jul 01, 2009
Here's one I made earlier: Chimps learn from watching videos
A still from the demonstration video used to teach chimpanzees to construct a tool. Credit: E Price

(PhysOrg.com) -- Lots of species have been discovered to use simple tools. Some birds use twigs to pull grubs out of their hiding places, and chimpanzees will strip leaves from branches to fish for termites - but is making a tool from separate parts simply a stretch too far for a non-human species?

An international team of researchers led by Elizabeth Price and Professor Andrew Whiten at the University of St Andrews have found that this is not the case as they discovered that can learn to make a tool long enough to capture out-of-reach food.

In their paper published today (Wednesday July 1st), Price and Whiten proved that chimps could learn and apply the skill by watching a video of a chimpanzee they had earlier trained to demonstrate the construction process.

Chimpanzees at a University of Texas primate centre were presented with an out of reach grape. Some were then shown a video of another chimpanzee expertly slotting one stick into another to create a rake, and then using the tool to obtain the food.

Others were shown videos with less information, for example, a chimpanzee using a readymade tool. The researchers found that chimpanzees who watched the full video demonstration were able to copy what they saw and make the tools themselves.

In a follow up test, the grapes were sometimes put within reach, making the use of a longer tool unnecessary. The chimpanzees that had learned the skill by watching the full video persisted in making the rake, which in the new scenario was more awkward to use.

However, a few individual chimpanzees who had not seen the full demonstration but still managed to make a tool, did not do so when the grape was close enough to reach without help.

Lead researcher Elizabeth Price commented, "These results are important not only because they provide the first evidence that chimpanzees can socially learn how to construct tools, but also because they suggest that can have a potent effect on how an individual approaches related problems later."

These surprising results suggest that learning from others - or 'social learning' - can lead to a less flexible approach to novel situations. The researchers are now planning to discover the extent to which our own species is vulnerable to a similar effect.

Ms Price continued, "Social learning plays a major role in the spread of complex technologies in humans, and the extent to which behaviour is faithfully replicated may tell us much about the cultural abilities of other species such as chimpanzees. Our results show that in some situations, social learning can have powerful effects in chimpanzees. If captive chimpanzees are cognitively savvy enough to innovate and socially learn complex tool construction to solve problems, the lack of such behaviour in the wild is unlikely to result simply from cognitive limitations."

The research has been published electronically in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today (Wednesday 1st July).

Provided by University of St Andrews

Explore further: Vietnam's taste for cat leaves pets in peril

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Chimps don't care about friends

Oct 26, 2005

University of California-Los Angeles scientists say helping others is apparently a uniquely human habit -- or, at least, not a habit shared by chimpanzees.

Chimps used tools as early as the Stone Age: study

Feb 12, 2007

Chimpanzees from West Africa were cracking nuts open using stone tools in prehistoric times, according to a study released Monday that suggests some chimp populations may have been using this kind of tool technology ...

Gesturing observed in wild chimpanzees

Mar 22, 2006

It was once thought only humans gestured to direct another person's attention, but such "referential" gesturing has now been observed in wild chimpanzees.

Recommended for you

Vietnam's taste for cat leaves pets in peril

53 minutes ago

The enduring popularity of "little tiger" as a snack to accompany a beer in Vietnam means that cat owners live in constant fear of animal snatchers, despite an official ban.

New species of mayfly discovered in India

2 hours ago

Scientists have discovered a new species of mayfly in the southern Western Ghats, a mountain range along the west coast of India. In fact, this is the first time that any mayfly belonging to the genus Labiobaetis has be ...

Rising temperatures can be hard on dogs

Jul 25, 2014

The "dog days of summer" are here, but don't let the phrase fool you. This hot time of year can be dangerous for your pup, says a Kansas State University veterinarian.

User comments : 0