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, 5 (5), e10625

Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees


Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees

Victoria Horner et al. PLoS One.


Humans follow the example of prestigious, high-status individuals much more readily than that of others, such as when we copy the behavior of village elders, community leaders, or celebrities. This tendency has been declared uniquely human, yet remains untested in other species. Experimental studies of animal learning have typically focused on the learning mechanism rather than on social issues, such as who learns from whom. The latter, however, is essential to understanding how habits spread. Here we report that when given opportunities to watch alternative solutions to a foraging problem performed by two different models of their own species, chimpanzees preferentially copy the method shown by the older, higher-ranking individual with a prior track-record of success. Since both solutions were equally difficult, shown an equal number of times by each model and resulted in equal rewards, we interpret this outcome as evidence that the preferred model in each of the two groups tested enjoyed a significant degree of prestige in terms of whose example other chimpanzees chose to follow. Such prestige-based cultural transmission is a phenomenon shared with our own species. If similar biases operate in wild animal populations, the adoption of culturally transmitted innovations may be significantly shaped by the characteristics of performers.

Conflict of interest statement

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Figure 1
Figure 1. Model and apparatus allocations for chimpanzees in groups 1 and 2.
Group 1 (top): Model A was trained to deposit tokens into the spotted receptacle while model B was trained to use the striped receptacle. Group 2 (bottom): Models A and B were trained to use the opposite receptacles from Group1.
Figure 2
Figure 2. Experimental procedure used during the observation period.
(A) trained models retrieve a token from an experimenter standing between the receptacles outside the enclosure fence; (B) models deposit their token into their respective receptacles; (C) a food reward is thrown to the model by a second experimenter standing on an observation tower.
Figure 3
Figure 3. The percentage of deposits into each receptacle by chimpanzees from groups 1 and 2.
The receptacles used by models A and B were counterbalanced between groups: the method used by model A in Group 1 was the method used by model B in Group 2, and vice versa.

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