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Majority-biased learning
Date:4/12/2012

This press release is available in German.

The transmission of knowledge to the next generation is a key feature of human evolution. In particular, humans tend to copy behaviour that is demonstrated by many other individuals. Chimpanzees and orangutans, two of our closest living relatives, also socially pass on traditional behaviour and culture from one generation to another. Whether and how this process resembles the human one is still largely unknown. Researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen have now discovered that chimpanzees are more likely to copy an action performed by a large number of individuals than an action that was performed more frequently. Two-year old children consider both the number of individuals and the frequency of the action demonstrated. For orangutans, however, none of the factors play a role.

In many animal species, behaviours and strategies are passed on from individuals to their conspecifics and potentially across groups by social learning. In chimpanzees and orangutans, whose behavioural repertoires differ from population to population, knowledge is also "transmitted" amongst individuals. In their current paper, researchers Daniel Haun, Yvonne Rekers and Michael Tomasello of the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology and Psycholinguistics show how human children and chimpanzees pass on knowledge through social learning.

Initially, the researchers wanted to find out whether children and apes are more likely to copy a behaviour that has been demonstrated more often or one that has been demonstrated by more individuals. In the relevant experimental setting, 2-year-old children, chimpanzees and orangutans could receive a reward from an apparatus consisting of three differently coloured subsection
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Contact: Dr. Daniel Haun
haun@eva.mpg.de
49-341-355-0815
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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