Friday, 9 June 2017

Monkey see, monkey do, depending on age, experience and efficiency

Capuchin monkeys learn best-payoff ways to open fruit from others

Date: June 8, 2017
Source: University of California - Davis

Wild capuchin monkeys readily learn skills from each other -- but that social learning is driven home by the payoff of learning a useful new skill. It's the first demonstration of "payoff bias" learning in a wild animal, and could inform whether and how animals can adapt to rapidly changing conditions, for example due to climate change or reintroduction of species from captive breeding.

"When animals learn, they can learn very quickly," said Brendan Barrett, a graduate student in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, who led the study, published June 7 in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. "What are the psychological mechanisms animals use to learn?"

Barrett worked with a population of capuchin monkeys in northwest Costa Rica that was part of a 27-year study by UCLA professor Susan Perry. Capuchins are interesting because they have sophisticated social behaviors, and the kin relationships and early developmental histories of these monkeys were known.

"They explore their world, harvesting food from it," Barrett said. That includes coming up with new ways to open and harvest hard-to-access fruits and seeds. Unusually for monkeys, capuchins will tolerate other monkeys watching them as they open fruit.
Among the possible hypotheses: Monkeys conform with the group majority; they follow what experienced animals do; they learn from parents or close relatives; or they learn from their own experience.

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