Evidence for emulation in chimpanzees in social settings using the floating peanut task.
It is still unclear which observational learning mechanisms underlie the transmission of difficult problem-solving skills in chimpanzees. In particular, two different mechanisms have been proposed: imitation and emulation. Previous studies have largely failed to control for social factors when these mechanisms were targeted.
In an attempt to resolve the existing discrepancies, we adopted the 'floating peanut task', in which subjects need to spit water into a tube until it is sufficiently full for floating peanuts to be grasped. In a previous study only a few chimpanzees were able to invent the necessary solution (and they either did so in their first trials or never). Here we compared success levels in baseline tests with two experimental conditions that followed: 1) A full model condition to test whether social demonstrations would be effective, and 2) A social emulation control condition, in which a human experimenter poured water from a bottle into the tube, to test whether results information alone (present in both experimental conditions) would also induce successes. Crucially, we controlled for social factors in both experimental conditions. Both types of demonstrations significantly increased successful spitting, with no differences between demonstration types. We also found that younger subjects were more likely to succeed than older ones. Our analysis showed that mere order effects could not explain our results.
The full demonstration condition (which potentially offers additional information to observers, in the form of actions), induced no more successes than the emulation condition. Hence, emulation learning could explain the success in both conditions. This finding has broad implications for the interpretation of chimpanzee traditions, for which emulation learning may perhaps suffice.
Tennie, C; Call, J; Tomasello, M
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