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Chimpanzees remain fixed on a single strategy, even if a novel, more efficient, strategy is introduced. Previous studies reporting such findings have incorporated paradigms in which chimpanzees learn one behavioural method and then are shown a new one that the chimpanzees invariably do not adopt. This study provides the first evidence that chimpanzees show such conservatism even when the new method employs the identical required behaviour as the first, but for a different reward. Groups of chimpanzees could choose to exchange one of two inedible tokens; one was rewarded with a highly preferred food (grape) and the other with a less preferred food (carrot). Individuals first observed a model chimpanzee from their social group trained to choose one of the two types of tokens. In one group, this token earned a carrot, while in the other, control, group the token earned a grape. In both groups, chimpanzees conformed to the trained model’s choice. This was especially striking for those gaining the pieces of carrot; the less favoured reward. This resulted in a population-level trend of food choices, even when counter to their original, individual, preferences. Moreover, the chimpanzees’ food preferences did not change over time, demonstrating that these results were not due to a simple shift in preferences. We discuss social factors apparent in the interactions and suggest that, despite seeming to be inefficient, in chimpanzees, conformity may benefit them, possibly by assisting with the maintenance of group relations.


This article was originally published in the journal Animal Behavior. Copyright © 2011 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier.

The post-peer-reviewed version is posted here with the permission of the author.

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