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Observational learning in orangutan cultural transmission chains

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Field reports suggest that orangutans acquire local traditions by observing neighbouring conspecifics. However, there is little direct evidence of social learning to support this conclusion. The present study investigated whether orangutans would learn a novel foraging method through observation of a conspecific in a diffusion-chain paradigm testing for the spread of the behaviour. A foraging box with two possible methods for extracting food was used to investigate the transmission of a foraging tradition among zoo-living subjects. In a socially housed group of five orangutans, the dominant male was trained to use one technique exclusively to retrieve food. He then performed this technique in the presence of another group member, who was then allowed to forage. After several trials, the observer became the model for the next individual. A second experimental group of six individuals was introduced to the alternative method. The model-seeded technique was successfully transmitted along both experimental chains, with significant preferences for the model method. These results are consistent with claims for social transmission of foraging methods in wild orangutans.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-183
Number of pages3
JournalBiology Letters
Volume7
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 23 Apr 2011

    Research areas

  • culture, social learning, copying, orangutans, WILD SUMATRAN ORANGUTANS, PONGO-PYGMAEUS, BORNEAN ORANGUTANS, SOCIAL DIFFUSION, INFORMATION, EVOLUTION, ABELII

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