Imitative learning by captive western lowland gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) in a simulated food-processing task

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Tara S. Stoinksi, Joanna L. Wrate, Nicky Ure, Andrew Whiten
Journal of Comparative Psychology
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Although field studies have suggested the existence of cultural transmission of foraging techniques in primates, identification of transmission mechanisms has remained elusive. To test experimentally for evidence of imitation in the current study, the authors exposed gorillas (Gorilla gorilla gorilla) to an artificial fruit foraging task designed by A. Whiten and D. M. Custance (1996). Gorillas (n=6) watched a human model remove a series of 3 defenses around a fruit. Each of the defenses was removed using 1 of 2 alternative techniques. Subsequent video analysis of gorillas’ behavior showed a significant tendency to copy the observed technique on 1 of the individual defenses and the direction of removal on another defense. This is the first statistically reliable evidence of imitation in gorillas. Sequence of defense removal was not replicated. The gorillas’ responses were most similar to those of chimpanzees.


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