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Payoff- and sex-biased social learning interact in a wild primate population

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access Status

  • Embargoed (until 30/08/19)


Axelle E.J. Bono, Andrew Whiten, Carel van Schaik, Michael Krützen, Franca Eichenberger, Alessandra Schnider, Erica van de Waal

School/Research organisations


Social learning in animals is now well documented, but few studies have determined the contexts shaping when social learning is deployed. Theoretical studies predict copying of conspecifics gaining higher payoffs [1, 2, 3, 4], a bias demonstrated in primates only in captivity [5]. In the wild, research has shown selective attention toward the philopatric sex, a group’s stable core [6]. Here, we report the first rigorous experimental test of the existence of a payoff bias in wild primates and its interaction with the sex of the model. We created a payoff bias in which an immigrant alpha male in each of three groups of wild vervet monkeys received five times more food upon opening a foraging box than did the philopatric alpha female, whereas in two control groups, male and female models received the same amount of food. We tested whether this payoff asymmetry would override the previously documented selective learning from resident females. Group members were tested after having watched both models. When both models received the same amount of food, audience members copied the female model significantly more than the male model, confirming previous findings. However, when a marked payoff bias was introduced, male, but not female, vervet monkeys significantly more often copied the male model receiving a higher payoff. These results demonstrate behavioral flexibility in the dispersing sex in these primates and suggest that the philopatric sex can afford to be more conservative in their social learning. Our findings show that multiple social-learning biases can coexist and interact within the same species.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2800-2805.e4
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number17
Early online date30 Aug 2018
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sep 2018

    Research areas

  • Field experiment, Cultural transmission, Social learning strategy, Sex differences, Vervet monkeys

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