Chimpanzees can learn to use tools more efficiently by watching how others use them, new research suggests. The findings help illuminate ways that culture could evolve in nonhuman animals.

“Social learning is very important to maintaining a culture,” study researcher Shinya Yamamoto, of Kyoto University in Japan, told LiveScience. “For example, in humans, we can develop technologies based on previous techniques, and other people can learn the more efficient techniques by accumulating cultural knowledge.” The new research provides insight into how cultural evolution might occur in chimpanzees.

In the study, nine captive chimpanzees at the Primate Research Institute at Kyoto University were presented with a straw-tube they could use to obtain juice from a bottle through a small hole. Of their own accord, the chimps used one of two techniques to get the juice: “dipping” and “straw-sucking.” The dipping technique involved inserting the straw into the juice and removing it to suck on the end, whereas straw-sucking entailed sipping the juice through the straw. Straw-sucking was a much more efficient means of getting juice than dipping.

Five of the chimps initially used the dipping method and four used the straw-sucking method. The researchers then paired each of the five chimps who used dipping with a chimp who was a straw-sucker. Four of the dippers switched to straw-sucking after observing the other animal using the more effective technique. The fifth dipper switched too, but only after watching a human using it. [See video of the chimps.]

Read more at LiveScience.

Published On: January 31, 2013

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