Seeding an arbitrary convention in capuchin monkeys: the effect of social context

in Behaviour
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The study of social learning in non-human animals has advanced beyond attempts to determine which animals are capable of learning socially to investigations of the factors that influence transmission. Capuchin monkeys (Sapajus sp.) are adept social learners of various behaviours including extractive foraging techniques and social customs. Here, we conducted an open diffusion experiment to determine whether capuchins would learn an arbitrary convention from a knowledgeable demonstrator. In addition, we investigated whether rank, sex and social context affected acquisition and expression of the behaviour. Participation in the experiment was strongly influenced by dominance rank in the group setting. However, when tested individually, the majority of individuals participated and faithfully copied the convention that was seeded into their group. Our findings demonstrate that capuchins can acquire an arbitrary convention via social learning, but that social context must be carefully considered in studies of social learning.

Seeding an arbitrary convention in capuchin monkeys: the effect of social context

in Behaviour



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    Layout of capuchin colony housing enclosures, observation room, and testing scenarios. The Y colony side (on the left), shows the testing arrangement for the transmission phase with the demonstrator present. The F colony side (on the right) shows the testing arrangement for the single subject transmission sessions.

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    Example scenario for both demonstrator training and single subject testing sessions. The photograph shows the trainer and monkey positions during the single subject testing sessions. The demonstrator is in the process of being rewarded by the trainer while being observed by a test subject through the cubicle mesh. During demonstrator training, visual access of the subjects in the cubicles was blocked. This figure is published in colour in the online edition of this journal, which can be accessed via

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