Chimps look up to trend-setters

Image caption Scientists have found that chimps copy the behaviour of "high-ranking" apes.

A new study claims chimpanzees look up to those they consider to be more prestigious.

University of St Andrews researchers, along with other experts, found that the animals copied the actions of those they considered to have high status.

Chimps are good learners, but it was unclear why learned behaviour did not occur in all colonies.

Through this study, scientists discovered the status of the chimp that introduced the technique was key.

The work was a collaboration between Professor Andrew Whiten, of the University of St Andrews, and Dr Victoria Horner and Dr Frans de Waal, at the Yerkes National Primate Research Centre in Atlanta.

Professor Whiten said: "Teenagers look to pop stars as social models, copying their clothing, mannerisms and speech.

"Adults are inspired by prominent members of their society, such as successful professionals.

"Our study shows that chimpanzees are similarly selective in their choice of trend-setters."

Earlier studies showed that chimpanzee populations in Africa differed from one another in their use of tools, communication and foraging techniques.

For example, some populations used stones to crack nuts and others did not.

Professor Whiten added: "Previous studies have focused on how chimpanzees learn these behaviours from one another through observation and imitation, but much less is known about how they decide whose behaviour to copy."

The researchers allowed chimpanzees to observe the successful foraging skills of either older, higher-ranking chimps with good track records of solving puzzles, or lower ranking ones with no such experience.

They noted that the animals overwhelmingly copied the behaviour of the higher status individuals.

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