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Chimpanzees learn to use tools by watching others

By Katie Newton | 8 February 2013

Chimpanzees are likely to use a more efficient tool technique after observing others who are employing a better approach.

Chimpanzee using cuboid tool
Picture by Cornelia Schrauf, Josep Call, Koki Fuwa and Satoshi Hirata. Licensed under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5/legalcode

In a paper published by PLOS ONE , researchers from Kent’s Durrell Institute for Conservation and Ecology (DICE)and Kyoto University presented the first experimental evidence that chimpanzees can watch and learn from a group member’s invention of a better technique in much the same way that humans do.

For the study, the team provided chimpanzees with wall boxes containing juice, accessible via a small hole, and flexible straws to drink with.

Among their observations, they noticed how one group of chimpanzees used the straw like a dipstick, dipping and removing it to suck on the end, while others sucked the juice directly through the straw.

Although both techniques required similar cognitive and motor skills, drinking through the straw was much more efficient than repeatedly dipping for the juice.

When the ‘dipping’ chimpanzees watched either another chimpanzee or a human demonstrate the more efficient ‘straw-sucking’ technique, all of them switched to using the latter technique.

‘Basis for cumulative cultural evolution in chimpanzees: social learning of a more efficient tool-use technique’, can be accessed here.

For more information contact: Katie Newton.

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