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Pay-off-biased social learning underlies the diffusion of novel extractive foraging traditions in a wild primate.


The type and variety of learning strategies used by individuals to acquire behaviours in the wild are poorly understood, despite the presence of behavioural traditions in diverse taxa. Social learning strategies such as conformity can be broadly adaptive, but may also retard the spread of adaptive innovations. Strategies like pay-off-biased learning, by contrast, are effective at diffusing new behaviour but may perform poorly when adaptive behaviour is common. We present a field experiment in a wild primate, Cebus capucinus, that introduced a novel food item and documented the innovation and diffusion of successful extraction techniques. We develop a multilevel, Bayesian statistical analysis that allows us to quantify individual-level evidence for different social and individual learning strategies. We find that pay-off-biased and age-biased social learning are primarily responsible for the diffusion of new techniques. We find no evidence of conformity; instead rare techniques receive slightly increased attention. We also find substantial and important variation in individual learning strategies that is patterned by age, with younger individuals being more influenced by both social information and their own individual experience. The aggregate cultural dynamics in turn depend upon the variation in learning strategies and the age structure of the wild population.

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