New features of chimpanzee learning discovered

(ORDO NEWS) —  Scientists have shown that chimpanzees can rarely invent complex ways to use tools, although they are willing to copy them if one of them suddenly succeeds.

People have a complex culture built on cooperation, mutual exchange and learning new skills through copying the behavior of others. Therefore, it is believed that human culture is cumulative: skills and technologies are accumulated over generations and become more efficient and more sophisticated.

According to the current hypothesis of the zone of latent decisions in anthropology, other primates, such as chimpanzees, do not learn in this way, but can individually invent cultural behavior. However, a recent field study in the Nimba Mountains of Guinea suggested that this may not be the case.

Primatologists have tried to establish whether complex behaviors like cracking nuts with the help of improvised objects could be invented by chimpanzees individually. The results of the study are published in Nature Human Behavior .

The experiment included a series of four rounds of observation of chimpanzees. First, they were given nuts and stones to crack them, then the researchers added palm fruit to them. In the third experiment, the nuts were split beforehand and placed on top of the stones. Finally, in the fourth experiment, along with stones, chimpanzees were given another, easier to crack, type of nut – coula (Coula edulis).

Animals came to places where scientists left the crackers and willingly examined nuts and stones, but they themselves did not crack a single nut even after more than a year of interaction with these materials. A total of 35 groups of chimpanzees visited the observation sites, of which 11 groups closely examined the experimental objects.

Interestingly, the chimpanzees were more likely to study the materials offered to them when they came in large groups. Only one female has been observed to have eaten palm fruit, but at no time have chimpanzees cracked or eaten oil palm nuts or koula themselves.

The results showed that chimpanzees learn cultural behaviors like humans, rather than just inventing elaborate ways to use tools, such as cracking nuts, on their own. These findings about wild chimpanzees help shed light on what makes human culture unique. In particular, they suggest more continuity between chimpanzee and human cultural evolution than is commonly assumed, and that the human capacity for cumulative culture may have a common evolutionary origin with chimpanzees.

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