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Chimpanzee See; Chimpanzee Do: A Study of Social Learning and Handedness

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    Photo: Shelley Dormont ‘11

Morgan E. Mingle
Sponsor: Steven Schapiro, Professor of Psychology

The current experiment was designed to assess two seemingly unrelated aspects of primate evolution and cognition: brain lateralization and social learning. 52 adult chimpanzees living in 6 multi-male, multi-female social groups were each given a two-chambered device to open after observing a “teacher” complete the task. The device consists of a 10” length of 1” white Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe separated into two reward compartments by a bolt. Each compartment could be accessed independently: one side was fitted with a male PVC twist cap adapter and a white PVC twist cap; while the other side/compartment was closed with a 1” grey or black PVC pull cap. To begin, a trial apparatus was tossed in front of the target subject from above the outdoor enclosure. The “teacher” for each social group was chosen based on relative dominance and perceived aptitude for the task and received the apparatus first. Only the teacher was given the apparatus until an effective strategy to remove the food items was developed. After observing a successful opening strategy at least three times, another chimpanzee was given the opportunity to open a device. The method of opening the apparatus, the hand used for each task, and the individuals observing the teacher were all recorded. Chimpanzees are expected to favor opening strategies they have seen other chimpanzees use successfully. Furthermore, it would be interesting to note whether the same side of the brain was used to complete gross motor tasks, such as hitting, as for fine motor tasks, such as twisting a cap.