Sunday, 28 April 2013

'When in Rome': Monkeys Found to Conform to Social Norms

Apr. 25, 2013 — The human tendency to adopt the behaviour of others when on their home territory has been found in non-human primates. 

Researchers at the University of St Andrews observed 'striking' fickleness in male monkeys, when it comes to copying the behaviour of others in new groups. The findings could help explain the evolution of our human desire to seek out 'local knowledge' when visiting a new place or culture. 

The new discovery was made by Dr Erica van de Waal and Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, along with Christèle Borgeaud of the University of Neuchâtel. 

Professor Whiten commented, "As the saying goes, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'. Our findings suggest that a willingness to conform to what all those around you are doing when you visit a different culture is a disposition shared with other primates." 

The research was carried out by observing wild vervet monkeys in South Africa. The researchers originally set out to test how strongly wild vervet monkey infants are influenced by their mothers' habits. 

But more interestingly, they found that adult males migrating to new groups conformed quickly to the social norms of their new neighbours, whether it made sense to them or not. 

Professor Whiten commented, "The males' fickleness is certainly a striking discovery. At first sight their willingness to conform to local norms may seem a rather mindless response -- but after all, it's how we humans often behave when we visit different cultures. 

"It may make sense in nature, where the knowledge of the locals is often the best guide to what are the optimal behaviours in their environment, so copying them may actually make a lot of sense." 

Everybody's Doing It: Monkeys Eat What Others are Eating 

Tanya Lewis, LiveScience Staff Writer 

Date: 25 April 2013 Time: 02:00 PM ET 

Just as human travelers often adopt the local cuisine, wild monkeys learn to eat what those around them are eating, new research finds. 

A study of wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) in South Africa provides proof that primates other than humans adopt and conform to cultural behaviors. Given a choice between two foods, infant monkeys ate only the foods that their mothers ate. And young males that ventured to other groups soon switched to the local diet, researchers report online today (April 25) in the journal Science

"Some of the ways of learning that we have thought were distinctly human are more broadly shared across nonhuman primates," said study co-author Andrew Whiten, a cognitive biologist at the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom. 

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