Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

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ScienceShot: For Chimps, the Majority Rules

Common wisdom suggests not to jump off a bridge just because everyone else is doing it. But some apes will leap anyway. In a study published online today in Current Biology, researchers set up a simple experiment to see if nonhuman primates, like people, follow the masses. The team sat individual chimpanzees down to watch several of their peers drop toy balls into a series of boxes to receive treats, then allowed the observers to do the same. When given the choice to pick between a container favored by three separate chimps (graphic) and one frequented by only a single chimp, seven out of the nine observers tended to go with the popular crowd. They were in good company, too—in a parallel experiment, nine out of 16 human toddlers made similar selections (right). This moblike mentality makes evolutionary sense, the group says, since doing what everyone else is doing is usually a good way to avoid hidden dangers. Except, of course, when it comes to a bridge.

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