San Francisco/Kyoto - Chimpanzees readily copy one another's style if it promises a gain in efficiency, according to new research at the University of Kyoto which adds to the evidence that animals develop something akin to human culture.
The chimps were offered the chance to drink fruit juice through straws. They spontaneously tried two different techniques in obtaining juice through a small hole: either straw-sucking or dipping the straw and licking the end.
All five chimpanzees who had initially tried dipping for five straight days switched to using the more efficient straw-sucking technique after seeing another chimp or a human demonstrate it.
There has been debate about whether the animals practice cumulative cultural evolution with successive generations building on earlier achievements.
Faithful social learning of incremental improvements in technique used to be considered a defining feature of human culture, differentiating us from animals, but the finding suggests chimps are closer to us than we may think.
When chimps are dissatisfied with their own method, they can learn an improved technique by observing a demonstrator, provided there is no biologically relevant difference in difficulty between the techniques, said the research team led by Shinya Yamamoto.
The research was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
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