Social learning and the influence of social context : studies with common marmosets and olive baboons
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The traditional layman's view of "monkey see, monkey do" contrasts strikingly with the general opinion of the scientific community, which has all but written off the imitative abilities of monkeys. This thesis presents an argument that proposes various ways in which the existing experimental literature may have led to an underestimation of the social learning abilities of monkeys. Firstly, a literature review of comparative approaches to the study of imitation reveals that species have rarely been tested in truly comparative ways, i.e. by comparing performance on analogous task designs. Furthermore, even when analogous tasks are used, confounds (many of them peculiar to social learning research) may be rife. The first experimental chapter examines the performance of common marmoset subjects on a task designed to be similar to one used to test for imitation in several other primate species. Using this paradigm, clear effects of observation of a skilled demonstrator are found. Moving on to the issue of potential confounds in social learning research, the next three experimental chapters address the issue of the effect of social context on social learning. The first of these studies demonstrates that marmosets' skill learning can be strongly facilitated by close social interaction with a trained demonstrator, a result which contrasts quite strongly with many similar studies involving species with less tolerant social structures. The final four studies therefore involve comparisons between common marmosets (which are very tolerant within their family group) and olive baboons (which have a steeply hierarchical social organisation). It is shown that in the baboons, but not the marmosets, a skilled individual's demonstration quality is impaired by the presence of a dominant observer. Furthermore, the baboons, again in contrast with the marmosets, are inhibited from approaching and jointly interacting with a dominant demonstrator, reducing opportunities for skill transmission.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosopy
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