ScienceShot: Chimps Imitate Their Idols

Humans aren't the only ones who are picky about the role models they emulate. Our closest furry relatives also prefer to copy the behavior of prestigious individuals. In a study reported this month in PLoS ONE, groups of chimps observed a young, low-ranking and an older, high-ranking female perform distinct tasks to receive food (In the photo, high-ranking Ericka is seen on the left and low-ranking Georgia on the right.) One female was trained to deposit a plastic rod into a spotted trash receptacle, while the other female was taught to slip the rod into a striped, erect tube. After observing these routines for 20 minutes, the remaining chimps were allowed to participate. They modeled the behavior of the high-status chimp up to nine times more frequently than the low-ranking one. The practice may explain why there is so much geographic variation in tool use among chimpanzees, and it may be evolutionarily beneficial because high-ranking individuals have a track record of success.

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