Social learning from video demonstrations in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), children (Homo sapiens), and ravens (Corvus corax)
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The capacity for cumulatively complex and constructive technologies is a hallmark of human cognitive ability. Many species use tools, yet the breadth, adaptability, and inventiveness of human tool use distinguishes us. Such complex technological adaptations require the causal understanding to invent and perfect new techniques and the ability to copy perceived behaviours. This has led to considerable research comparing the social learning abilities of chimpanzees and young children on tool-using tasks, yet experimental studies directly investigating tool modification are rare. The studies outlined in this thesis sought to assess the social learning abilities of chimpanzees and children by manipulating both the complexity of a tool modification method and the amount of information available in a demonstration. Video demonstrations of conspecifics were used in lieu of live models, in order to manipulate the quality and quantity of information directly. Both chimpanzees and children presented with complete information about the modification process learned to combine two tools together to make a more efficient tool significantly more than those provided with less information. Unlike chimpanzees, children presented with a more perceptually opaque method of tool modification (twisting and extending an internal rod) were also able to socially learn the task, despite the fact that none of the children in the control condition successfully solved the task. Both children and chimpanzees who solved the task after seeing a demonstration also persisted in using the socially learned method two-weeks later, even when it was no longer necessary. These results identify potent social learning effects in both chimpanzees and children, however, children proved superior to chimpanzees in observationally learning finer manipulative techniques. This thesis also provides the first analysis of video stimuli in ravens. To assess the feasibility of the methodology, ravens were first presented with different types of video stimuli, varying in terms of the subject identity. Ravens showed a preference for video footage of other ravens over different species of birds. In a second study, ravens who saw a conspecific solve a two-step task were more likely to attempt a solution than those who had not. This represents the first evidence of social learning from a video demonstration in ravens and further supports the use of this medium to dissect social learning mechanisms in a range of species.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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