Friday, August 26, 2005

Cultured Chimps

Scientists have shown that chimpanzees conform to social norms. This would suggest that sociality is 'biological' and existed in a common ancestor.

They presented two different groups of chimps with a problem relevant to their wild cousins: how to retrieve an item of food stuck behind a blockage in a system of tubes.

One chimpanzee from each group was secretly taught a novel way to solve the problem. Ericka was taught how to use a stick to lift the blockage up so that the food fell out.

Another female chimp, Georgia, was shown how to poke at the blockage so that the ball of food rolled out of the back of the pipes.

Each chimp was then reunited with its group, and the scientists watched how they behaved.

They found that the chimps gathered around Ericka or Georgia and soon copied their behaviour. By the end of two months, the two different groups were still using their own way of getting at the food and two distinct cultural traditions had been established.

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