Six adult male rhesus monkeys did not learn from the choices of a conspecific shown in videos

Anim Cogn. 2023 Mar;26(2):379-392. doi: 10.1007/s10071-022-01669-7. Epub 2022 Aug 18.


There is substantial evidence of group-specific behaviors in wild animals that are thought to be socially transmitted. Yet experimental studies with monkeys have reported conflicting evidence on the extent to which monkeys learn by observing their conspecifics. In this study, we tested the feasibility of using pre-recorded video demonstrations to investigate social learning from conspecifics in rhesus monkeys. With training, monkeys gradually learned to respond correctly following videos of a demonstrator, however, follow-up experiments revealed that this was not due to learning from the demonstrator monkey. In generalization tests with videos that were horizontally reversed, monkeys continued responding to the location they had associated with each video, rather than matching the new choice location shown in the mirrored video. When the task was changed to make location irrelevant, such that monkeys could choose correctly only by selecting the same image selected by the demonstrator in the video, observer monkeys did not exceed chance in 12,000 training trials. Because monkeys readily learn to follow nonsocial visual cues presented on a monitor to guide image choice, their inability to learn from a demonstrator here indicates substantial limitations in the capacity for social learning from videos. Furthermore, these findings encourage deeper consideration of what monkeys perceive when presented with video stimuli on computer screens.

Keywords: Conspecific imitation; Imitation; Primate cognition; Social learning; Video demonstration.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Wild
  • Cues*
  • Generalization, Psychological
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Social Learning*