When and where to practice: social influences on the development of nut-cracking in bearded capuchins (Sapajus libidinosus)

Eshchar, Y.; Izar, P.; Visalberghi, E.; Resende, B.; Fragaszy, D.

Animal Cognition 19(3): 605-618


ISSN/ISBN: 1435-9456
PMID: 26932847
DOI: 10.1007/s10071-016-0965-6
Accession: 059265182

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The habitual use of tools by wild capuchin monkeys presents a unique opportunity to study the maintenance and transmission of traditions. Young capuchins spend several years interacting with nuts before cracking them efficiently with stone tools. Using a two-observer method, we quantified the magnitude of the social influences that sustain this long period of practice. During five collection periods (over 26 months), one observer recorded the behavior of 16 immature monkeys, and another observer concurrently recorded behavior of group members in the focal monkey's vicinity. The two-observer method provides a means to quantify distinct social influences. Data show that immatures match the behavior of the adults in time and especially in space. The rate of manipulation of nuts by the immatures quadrupled when others in the group cracked and ate nuts, and immatures were ten times more likely to handle nuts and 40 times more likely to strike a nut with a stone when they themselves were near the anvils. Moreover, immature monkeys were three times more likely to be near an anvil when others were cracking. We suggest a model for social influence on nut-cracking development, based on two related processes: (1) social facilitation from observing group members engaged in nut-cracking, and (2) opportunity for practice provided by the anvils, hammer stones and nut shells available on and around the anvils. Nut-cracking activities by others support learning by drawing immatures to the anvils, where extended practice can take place, and by providing materials for practice at these places.