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Chimps build tools with DIY video -

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Chimps build tools with DIY video

Rachael Brown reported this story on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 12:53:00

PETER CAVE: They say if you give enough chimpanzees enough typewriters, one of them will eventually
write Shakespeare. But take a video tape, two sticks, and 50 chimpanzees, and you have a new study
on the effects of social learning.

The biological research journal, Proceedings B, details a study in which chimps watched a video of
a skilled peer slotting one stick into another, to reach a reward, in this case grapes.

The chimps who watched the whole video, learnt fastest, but there were also the ones who persisted
with the complex technique, even when the grapes were quite within their reach.

Rachael Brown spoke to the lead researcher, PhD candidate, Elizabeth Price.

ELIZABETH PRICE: Chimps use a lot of tools in the wild, and they're very good tool users, they use
a variety of sticks. Go take a twig for example and they'll strip off the leaves and the branches
and then they'll use that to fish for ants or for termites.

They also use stones, they'll have an anvil stone and a hammer stone and they'll crack nuts in that
way.

But what we don't really see as much are these combinations of tools, like using say a stick to
attach that to a sponge, and then using that sponge to then reach in and get water out of a hole in
a tree.

We've seen that in the wild, but what we don't see is that behaviour spreading through the group
like these other tool using behaviours do.

RACHAEL BROWN: So you played them a video did you?

ELIZABETH PRICE: I did, showing them videos containing different types and amounts of information.
Those in full condition saw a chimp putting two tools together and then using a longer tool to
reach an out of reach reward.

And those in a less complete condition would see an already completed tool without the modification
process being used to retrieve a reward and then so on down the line ending with some chimps didn't
receive any information at all.

RACHAEL BROWN: Which was the most successful group?

ELIZABETH PRICE: Those individuals who'd seen the full demonstration, so they performed much better
on actually combining the tools together and retrieving the reward than any other.

RACHAEL BROWN: Is there an important distinction between how the chimps went about it and how say
humans would?

ELIZABETH PRICE: There may very well be, in the first session where I varied the position of the
reward so that sometimes it was necessary to combine the two parts together and construct the tool,
and sometimes the grape was within reach of just an unmodified tool.

And what we found was that those who had socially learned really tended to keep combining the two
tools together even though they didn't have to in some cases it was a bit more awkward and time
consuming.

Whereas those who learned on their own really only did the construction process when it was
necessary; when the grape was further away. It shows that not only you know, social learning having
a very powerful affect on how these chimps are solving future tasks.

But also it's something that we would expect to see in humans a bit more, and I'm actually now
testing two-year-old children on a similar task to see how they fare because I anticipate that they
will perform very similarly to chimps.

RACHAEL BROWN: But you what they say about working with animals and children?

ELIZABETH PRICE: (laughs)

RACHAEL BROWN: You're a brave woman.

ELIZABETH PRICE: Yes I know indeed, especially two-year-old children yes. But I think it'll
definitely be very interesting to see how they perform, because there have been several tests in
the past that have compared chimpanzees and children directly.

And usually what we find is that children will be the one that are really replicating the behaviour
faithfully and really doing every precise detail even when it's unnecessary.

Whereas chimps kind of go for more overall idea, and just socially learn when they need to really.

RACHAEL BROWN: Any funny anecdotes from you time on the study?

ELIZABETH PRICE: (laughs) Well one instance where a chimp instead of, she had combined the tools
together and instead of going for the grape that was on the platform, he tried instead to reach
behind me to get a bucket full of grapes which was quite clever.

And I anticipate I'll have quite a few more anecdotes with the two-year-olds as well.

PETER CAVE: Researcher Elizabeth Price, speaking there to Rachael Brown.