Selective attention to philopatric models causes directed social learning in wild vervet monkeys

Erica van de Waal, Nathalie Renevey, Camille Monique Favre, Redouan Bshary


Human behaviour is often based on social learning, a mechanism that has been documented also in a variety of other vertebrates. However, social learning as a means of problem-solving may be optimal only under specific conditions, and both theoretical work and laboratory experiments highlight the importance of a potential model's identity. Here we present the results from a social learning experiment on six wild vervet monkey groups, where models were either a dominant female or a dominant male. We presented ‘artificial fruit’ boxes that had doors on opposite, differently coloured ends for access to food. One option was blocked during the demonstration phase, creating consistent demonstrations of one possible solution. Following demonstrations we found a significantly higher participation rate and same-door manipulation in groups with female models compared to groups with male models. These differences appeared to be owing to selective attention of bystanders to female model behaviour rather than owing to female tolerance. Our results demonstrate the favoured role of dominant females as a source for ‘directed’ social learning in a species with female philopatry. Our findings imply that migration does not necessarily lead to an exchange of socially acquired information within populations, potentially causing highly localized traditions.


    • Received December 9, 2009.
    • Accepted February 22, 2010.
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