Source: The Human Spark: "So Human, So Chimp"
Major funding for The Human Spark is provided by the National Science Foundation, and by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. Additional funding is provided by the John Templeton Foundation, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, and The Winston Foundation.
Monkey See, Monkey Do Transcript
The question of how chimps learn from each other is being studied here at Yerkes in Atlanta by Vicky Horner. She and her student Darby Procter have to take elaborate precautions against infecting – or getting infections from – the resident chimpanzees before getting close to them.
VICTORIA HORNER I’m going to load it up with a food treat.
ALAN ALDA So the chimps see you do that?
VICTORIA HORNER Yeah. And they can hear it as well.
ALAN ALDA So now the chimp knows it’s in here?
VICTORIA HORNER That’s right.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Before setting up her new experiment, Vicky showed me how a similar earlier experiment had worked, this time with me playing the role of the chimp.
VICTORIA HORNER Why don’t you have a go.
ALAN ALDA You want me to do it?
VICTORIA HORNER I would like you to do it. I’m going to pop one of these back in. It’s your turn.
ALAN ALDA OK, it’s in there. So the chimp has to figure out… Do they look the way I’m doing?
VICTORIA HORNER Absolutely, just like that.
ALAN ALDA OK, there it is. I’m not going to eat it.
VICTORIA HORNER I’ll do it one more time, load it up. But this time I’m going to use a different method… sliding. So if you see that, let’s see what you do.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) So the door can be opened in two different ways, either by lifting or sliding.
ALAN ALDA Wait a minute! Hoo, hoo, hoo!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Unfortunately, being fumble fingered, I couldn’t make either way work.
VICTORIA HORNER So if you had only ever seen the slide method…
ALAN ALDA Okay, so what I would do is start looking around for other ways to get it out. But what do chimps do?
VICTORIA HORNER They do what they saw, so they also, they slide. If you saw a slide, that’s what the chimps do.
ALAN ALDA Oh.
VICTORIA HORNER So if you show chimps lift, they’ll lift. If you see slide, they’ll slide. And we found a faithful transmission of each behavior down a chain of up to seven chimps. So not only can they simply learn from one individual, they can keep it accurate through multiple individuals.
ALAN ALDA And nobody tried a different way along the way?
VICTORIA HORNER No, they did exactly what they saw, despite the fact you can always do both. And we found some really interesting stuff. The level of tolerance, when one chimp is doing it, the observing chimp will be right there sort of in their face, watching what’s going on, and the chimp who is performing tolerates this really close interaction. They’re sort of right in there.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Vicky’s new trick box has two ways to get a grape. One way is to push…
VICTORIA HORNER In the other group, we’ve got exactly the same apparatus, but the trained chimp, this time, lifts.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Here’s Stewart, this group’s alpha male. He has plunked himself down in front of the apparatus and doesn’t seem inclined to let anyone else have a turn.
ALAN ALDA So, he’s doing it well, and he’s doing it the same way every time.
VICTORIA HORNER That’s right. So, he actually learned from the alpha female in this group, she’s called Erica, and we trained her to do the method that he’s doing, which we call the lift method. So he learned from watching her as did pretty much everybody else in this group. His mother, Vivian, is sitting beside him, and she absolutely adores this game too, it’s one of her favorite things to do, so she very much tries to elbow her son off his barrel and have a go, but at the end of the day he’s the alpha and there’s only so much a Mom can do.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Vicky now takes the same box over to a second group of chimps, which has no contact with the first. One chimp in this group was originally shown the push method – and sure enough, this is now the only way any of them in this group does it. So like humans these chimps do tend to follow cultural rules – but how they acquire them seems to be quite different.
ALAN ALDA So what do you think? What makes us different from those folks down there?
VICTORIA HORNER Humans, we do a lot more teaching, so I know you don’t know and I’m going to show you. And that’s something that we don’t see very much in chimps. I think that’s one of the differences. But the outcome, again, is the same. We both have cultures. And we both accurately transmit information and pass behaviors on over generations but the way that we go about doing that I think is maybe slightly different.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But it could be that this difference in how one generation passes on knowledge to the next – one by passively tolerating learning, the other through the active engagement of teaching – is a vital component of the Human Spark.
Teaching is a mutually cooperative endeavor, and as we’ve seen from Stewart and his mother, among chimps, competition usually trumps cooperation.
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