For years, mankind’s ability to ‘build on’ previous knowledge has been thought to be unique – and the reason behind our ability to create technologies.
But an experiment on chimps at an American chimp reserve hints that they too can ‘pass on knowledge’ – and perhaps build learning over time.
Chimps were presented with a container of juice which could only be reached by various straws – including one complex tool which had to be unfolded.
In groups where one chimp had been trained to use the complex tool, the others ‘learned’ from the trained chimp.
In other groups, chimps learned to ‘pool knowledge’ by using simpler tools.
Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, who led the study, said: ‘Perhaps the most fundamental thing this study shows is that a group of chimpanzees can appear more intelligent than any single individual – together they can create more advanced steps in cultural evolution.
Lead author Dr Gillian Vale, of the University of Texas, added: ‘Our chimpanzees were capable of learning increasingly complex behaviours by observing knowledgeable individuals. This and other recent studies are beginning to show that some non-human animals are better equipped to improve the complexity of their cultural behaviours over time than was previously believed.”