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Conformism in the food processing techniques of white-faced capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus)


Researchers of “culture” have long been interested in the role of social learning in establishing patterns of behavioral variation in wild animals, but very few studies examine this issue using a developmental approach. This 7-year study examines the acquisition of techniques used to process Luehea candida fruits in a wild population of white-faced capuchin monkeys, Cebus capucinus, residing in and near Lomas Barbudal Biological Reserve, Costa Rica. The two techniques for extracting seeds (pounding or scrubbing) were approximately equal in efficiency, and subjects experimented with both techniques before settling on one technique—typically the one they most frequently observed. In a sample of 106 subjects that had already settled on a preferred technique, the females adopted the maternal technique significantly more often than expected by chance, but the males did not. Using a longitudinal approach, I examined the acquisition of Luehea processing techniques during the first 5 years of life. Regression analysis revealed that the technique most frequently observed (measured as proportion of Luehea processing bouts observed that used pounding as opposed to scrubbing) significantly predicted the technique adopted by female observers, particularly in the second year of life; the amount of impact of the observed technique on the practiced technique was somewhat less significant for male observers. These results held true for (a) observations of maternal technique only, (b) observations of technique used by all individuals other than the mother, and (c) observations of maternal and non-maternal techniques combined.

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