Wednesday, May 1, 2013

When Monkeys Conform

There's an interesting article on Science Daily titled 'When in Rome': Monkeys Found to Conform to Social Norms' reporting on research by Erica van de Waal, Andrew Whiten, and Christèle Borgeaud. From the article:
The research was carried out by observing wild vervet monkeys in South Africa. The researchers originally set out to test how strongly wild vervet monkey infants are influenced by their mothers' habits.

But more interestingly, they found that adult males migrating to new groups conformed quickly to the social norms of their new neighbours, whether it made sense to them or not.
In the initial study, the researchers provided each of two groups of wild monkeys with a box of maize corn dyed pink and another dyed blue. The blue corn was made to taste repulsive and the monkeys soon learned to eat only pink corn. Two other groups were trained in this way to eat only blue corn.

A new generation of infants were later offered both colours of food -- neither tasting badly -- and the adult monkeys present appeared to remember which colour they had previously preferred.

Almost every infant copied the rest of the group, eating only the one preferred colour of corn.

The crucial discovery came when males began to migrate between groups during the mating season.

The researchers found that of the ten males who moved to groups eating a different coloured corn to the one they were used to, all but one switched to the new local norm immediately.
Cultural transmission like this is thought to be a big reason why humans are so much more advanced, mentally, than primates (e.g.) . Observing even a little bit of it in primates is a pretty big deal, then.

No comments:

Post a Comment