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

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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.

Affiliations: 1: aDepartment of Psychology and Biological Foundations of Behavior Program, Franklin and Marshall College, Lancaster, PA 17604, USA ; 2: bDepartment of Psychology, Beloit College, Beloit, WI, USA

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