culture · learning

Vervet females better teachers

Not an april fool’s story:
 When vervet monkeys play follow the leader, they prefer to follow a female. That was the conclusion of Erica van de Waal, whose lengthy study of these primates in South Africa will be published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. When her team presented them with a tricky contraption they had to open to reach a tasty snack, the monkeys learned better if they watched a female from their group demonstrate the solution rather than a male.
Seeking some answers to how social learning works in monkeys, van de Waal and her colleagues headed to Loskop Dam Nature Reserve.
The scientists saw that other monkeys paid more attention when the dominant female was solving the puzzle as opposed to the dominant male. Later, the team passed out the same kind of box to other members of the groups. If those monkeys were among the groups that had watched the male, they didn’t show a preference for which side of the box to open, which suggested they hadn’t learned much during their spectating days. In fact, van de Waal says, they didn’t even show a preference toward attempting to open the box. But, in the groups that watched their dominant female, 80 percent went for the side of the container they’d seen her open before.
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