The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)

Social learning of food preferences in juvenile chimpanzees


Psychology, Harvard University

Friday 4:30-4:45, Ballroom C Add to calendar

Foraging is an essential component of survival for any animal, and yet remarkably little is known about how juvenile primates develop capacities to forage successfully. For example, how do young primates learn which foods are appropriate to eat? One possibility is that they observe which foods other individuals have eaten, relying on cognitive capacities for social learning. Here, we utilized an experimental approach to investigate the capacities of young chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), ages 3 to 11 years, to learn socially about novel foods. We conducted a series of four experiments assessing whether young chimpanzees would observe the behavior of a demonstrator in choosing between two novel, yet palatable, food items (dried fruits). The four experiments tracked subjects’ capacities to learn from: 1) a conspecific (peer) demonstrator, 2) a human demonstrator, 3) multiple human demonstrators, or 4) a human competitor. Our results demonstrated that young chimpanzees were significantly more successful in learning about novel foods in a competitive context than in “neutral” or cooperative learning contexts, with these results apparent in both their overall performance and their initial choice between the two food items (or first trial performance). These results build on prior work indicating that chimpanzees are more proficient in utilizing social cues to locate hidden food in competitive contexts. They suggest that competitive feeding interactions may be critical in how chimpanzees learn about novel foods in their environments. Our findings also prompt continued study of the role of social learning in the acquisition of foraging capacities among juvenile primates.

comments powered by Disqus