Gorillas can learn to clean food on their own, without social cues

Intrinsic learning and social learning aren't mutually exclusive. Gorillas can learn the same skill in different ways.
By Brooks Hays  |  Dec. 4, 2017 at 3:49 PM
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Dec. 4 (UPI) -- Gorillas don't need to witnesses others cleaning their food to adopt the behavior. They can learn it on their own -- spontaneously.

Many of the gorilla's abilities are thought to be socially acquired, including food cleaning behavior. But during a series of tests, researchers found gorillas cleaned sand from a dirty apple 75 percent of the time.

"In four of our five gorillas, at least one of the techniques for cleaning was similar to that observed in the wild," Damien Neadle, a researcher at the University of Birmingham, said in a news release. "Given that these two groups are culturally unconnected, it suggests that social learning is not required for this behavior to emerge."

Scientists suggest their findings -- published this week in the journal PLoS One -- don't diminish the importance of social learning among apes. It simply proves gorillas can also develop talents and skills not their own.

"Here, we argue that individual learning is responsible for the form of the behavior, whilst social learning possibly contributes to its frequency," Neadle said.

Intrinsic learning and social learning aren't mutually exclusive. Gorillas can learn the same skill in different ways. It's likely that much of what gorillas and other apes learn is acquired through a combination of learning processes, researchers say.

"Rather than being a binary consideration of either cultural learning or not, behaviors like food cleaning, which can be propagated by shared learning but are also capable of being learnt spontaneously by individuals, could be deemed to be 'soft culture,'" Neadle said.

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