WEDNESDAY, 14 AUGUST 2013
The team, who published their results in Current Biology, gave ‘artificial fruits’ to two separate groups of squirrel monkeys and taught the alpha male of each group how to open them using a different technique. They then investigated how the technique spread to the rest of the group.
In each group, the team recorded whether individual monkeys learnt how to open the ‘fruits’ while registering which monkeys spent time together, allowing them to map the social networks. By recording interactions between monkeys, the team was able to evaluate the position of each monkey within the network or its ‘centrality’. The rating of a given individual increases with the number of his social connections, and more so when the connections are to other individuals who themselves are well connected.
The team found that while the majority of monkeys discovered or used both techniques for opening the ‘fruit’ at some stage, individuals of each group were more likely to use the technique that their alpha male had learnt. They also found that better-connected individuals tended to learn the technique earlier. Quoting the leading author: “Innovations are shaped by the monkeys' social networks¨.
The group could extend their studies to different contexts, which could help us achieve a better understanding of the origin of culture.
Written by Ana I. Leal Cervantes.