Chimpanzee trend-setters: New study shows that chimps 'ape' the prestigious

Jun 25, 2010
Common chimpanzee in the Leipzig Zoo. Image credit: Thomas Lersch, via Wikipedia.

(PhysOrg.com) -- Chimpanzees look up to those they consider to be more prestigious, echoing the way that young people admire celebrities such as David Beckham and Cheryl Cole, according to a new study.

Researchers found that apes copy the actions of those they consider to have high status within their group.

The study is a collaboration between Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews and Drs Victoria Horner and Frans de Waal at the Yerkes National Research Center in Atlanta.

Professor Whiten commented, “Teenagers look to pop stars as social models, copying their clothing, mannerisms and speech. Adults are inspired by prominent members of their society, such as successful professionals. Our study shows that chimpanzees are similarly selective in their choice of trendsetters.”

Earlier studies by Whiten and an international team of primatologists showed that chimpanzee populations in Africa differ from one another in their use of tools, communication and foraging techniques. For example, some populations use stones to crack nuts and others do not.

Professor Whiten continued, “Previous studies have focused on how chimpanzees learn these behaviors from one another through observation and imitation, but much less is known about how they decide whose behavior to copy. Is the spread of chimpanzee behavior influenced by ‘prestigious’ individuals, as it is in humans?”

To answer the question, Professor Whiten and his colleagues allowed chimpanzees to observe the successful foraging skills of either older, higher-ranking apes with good track records of solving puzzles, or lower ranking ones with no such experience. They noted apes overwhelmingly copied the behaviour of the higher status individuals.

The high-ranking female apes were Georgia, who has a long history of introducing new behaviors, inventing a new style of grooming at age fifteen, and Ericka, a matriarch who manages her group with a delicate touch, grooming nearly every individual frequently, ensuring her broad support within the group.

Professor Whiten explained, “We gave the higher and lower status females foraging puzzles to solve, and when the observing were later given their turn, they overwhelmingly aped Georgia and Ericka, the high status individuals within the group.”

The researchers concluded that the popularity of Georgia and Ericka as role models reflected their high prestige positions in the group. They believe that if similar biases operate in wild animal populations, the spread of cultural behaviors may be much shaped by the prestige of certain individuals.

Explore further: Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

More information: The research paper is published in Public Library of Science ONE (PLoS-ONE) 2010, 5, e10625, which is freely available online at www.plosone.org

The research will be showcased in ‘Culture Evolves’, an exhibit in the Royal Society’s Summer Science Exhibition, to be held in London’s Southbank Centre, 25 June - 4 July. The free, public exhibition will showcase cutting edge science in the UK.

Related Stories

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.

New evidence of culture in wild chimpanzees

Oct 22, 2009

A new study of chimpanzees living in the wild adds to evidence that our closest primate relatives have cultural differences, too. The study, reported online on October 22nd in Current Biology shows that neighb ...

Human-like altruism shown in chimpanzees

Jun 25, 2007

Debates about altruism are often based on the assumption that it is either unique to humans or else the human version differs from that of other animals in important ways. Thus, only humans are supposed to act on behalf of ...

Recommended for you

Research shows impact of BMR on brain size in fish

Apr 24, 2015

A commonly used term to describe nutritional needs and energy expenditure in humans – basal metabolic rate – could also be used to give insight into brain size of ocean fish, according to new research by Dr Teresa Iglesias ...

Why do animals fight members of other species?

Apr 23, 2015

Why do animals fight with members of other species? A nine-year study by UCLA biologists says the reason often has to do with "obtaining priority access to females" in the area.

Dolphins use extra energy to communicate in noisy waters

Apr 23, 2015

Dolphins that raise their voices to be heard in noisy environments expend extra energy in doing so, according to new research that for the first time measures the biological costs to marine mammals of trying ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.