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Social learning in animals is most clearly seen amongst primates as they have the necessary intelligence and abilities abilities to change their behavior through imitation

and practice.

Longitudinal studies of Japanese macaques isolated on the Koshima Islands have demonstrated that different monkey troops develop and maintain specific behaviors within their seperate communities that are not shared by other troops.[1] Within these groups cultural transmission occurs as a result of observational learning. So, for example, while the species usually eat unwashed food in one troop a macaque mother developed the habit of dipping her food in a stream. Subsequently her offspring copied this behavior which was then eventually acquired by the majority of the members of the troop[citation needed]. Later, young males, who do not breed within their home troop, took the behavior with them to neighbouring troops who then learnt the washing technique and this is now established more widely as a "cultural" feature of the species behavior on the island.

Unsubstantiated claims (see:Hundredth monkey effect) that there was a sudden and remarkable increase in the proportion of washers in the first population were exaggerations of a much slower, more mundane effect. It was predominantly younger monkeys that learned the skill from the older monkeys;[2] older monkeys who did not know how to wash tended not to learn. As the older monkeys died and younger monkeys were born the proportion of washers naturally increased. The time span between observations by the Japanese scientists was on the order of years so the increase in the proportion was not observed to be sudden.

Amongst ApesEdit

The greater apes consist of: chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans. In the 1990s, research questions shifted from asking whether do primates copy to "</span>how do primates copy?  The do-as-I-do task (see above)  has established that chimpanzees, bonobos and orangutans imitate bodily actions and gorillas have been shown to have similar abilities using a different task. Summary in Whiten, et al. (2004) How do apes ape? Learning & Behavior,31, 1, 36-52.</ref>

See alsoEdit

Imitation and the Chimpanzee Imitation and the Rhesus Macaques


  1. Manning, A & Dawkins M.S.(1998). An introduction to animal behavior. Cambridge:Cambridge University Press
  2. Galef, B. G. (1992). The question of animal culture. Human Nature 3 (2): 157–178.