Sex differences in male and female learning revealed by gibbons

Holding a mirror up to a gibbon’s mind

( -- Differences in the way male and female learning has evolved have been revealed by new research into gibbons, conducted by the University of Abertay Dundee.

Female benefited significantly from having access to a tool before being tested on using the tool to retrieve food. However, the males showed no beneficial learning effects at all.

The researchers believe that the potential dangers of new objects or new situations to females – particularly if they are pregnant or caring for young infants – have given an evolutionary advantage to being cautious. Male gibbons, who lack the same ‘reproductive costs’, by contrast seem to have evolved no such caution.

Dr Clare Cunningham, a psychology lecturer at Abertay University who led the research, said: “This result was a genuine surprise to us, as we’d not expected such a large difference with the females who had the learning opportunity before we conducted the test.

“We found that female gibbons who had no experience of the tool before being tested took almost three times as long to successfully use the tool to retrieve food from behind a barrier.”

The researchers also discovered that having access to the rake-like tool before testing did not increase the likelihood of success.

Interestingly, the male gibbons who had previous experience of the tool actually took much longer during the test to approach the tool and try to retrieve the tool, suggesting that males are less interested in objects they have previously experienced.

Clare added: “We believe that female gibbons who are more cautious to new objects and new situations may have an evolutionary advantage, resulting in a greater likelihood of survival and their cautious dispositions being passed on to the next generation.

“The research is very exciting, as it opens up a whole range of new questions for us to consider. For instance, have other species – like humans – also evolved with this same sex difference to ? If so, this could be a very important study indeed.”

The research was conducted at the Gibbon Conservation Centre in Santa Clarita, California, which works to ensure the survival of this endangered ape through conservation and scientific research.

The research is published online in the journal Animal Cognition, and is forthcoming in print.

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Provided by University of Abertay Dundee
Citation: Sex differences in male and female learning revealed by gibbons (2011, March 1) retrieved 19 September 2019 from
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Mar 01, 2011
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Mar 01, 2011
Males being less interested in objects they have previously experienced?

Does this tie into the wish for many casual sex partners in the male brain?

Mar 02, 2011
I don't know where Dr Claire Cunningham has been hiding but to anyone even half observant it is clear that paranoia i.e. distrust of anything new and a strong sense of insecurity by females would in a more primitive world convey upon them a much greater prospect for survival. It is therefore clear why such attributes would be of advantage to pregnant and nursing females. it makes them more acutely aware of potential risks and allows them to prepare or to find ways to offset those risks. Thus ensuring their survival and that of their offspring. Biologically that equals survival and survival equals success.

Mar 02, 2011
Males by comparison cannot function with those same instincts.
Rather young males are imbued with a sense of recklessness and are devoid of the concept of consequences.
Their role is to protect the tribe and in particular the females and the young and to hunt for food.
They would attack a tribe and take its hunting grounds. Not thinking half of us will be killed doing this. The same applies in hunting animals.
They know it happens (death) but they ignore it.
Our ancestral lineage goes back more than 25 million years. We only started to farm in the last 10 to 15 thousand years. So our civilising influences are relatively new. Our primitive instincts remain with us. Women have been better able to blend their instincts into a social framework than have males.
We need ways in which young males can utilise this wild exuberance in a relatively safe manner.
Perhaps Dr Claire Cunningham can have a look at both the female side and the male side of these issues.

Mar 02, 2011
THe male is there to show her what happens first.

when deciding to walk in a field containing land mines
its much better to tell another you will meet them on the other side in a short while, they can go first you'll catch up.

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