Comparative Behavioral Biology Presents
Assistant Director, Lester E Fisher Center for the Study and Conservation of Apes, Lincoln Park Zoo
The Interplay Between Agency and Memory in Primate Social Learning
Wednesday, January 11 @ 12pm
in BPSB 122
ABSTRACT: Human and nonhuman primates are expert social learners, able to glean information by observing the actions of conspecifics. As such, they can gain new skills and adopt local traditions, while avoiding the need to repeatedly “reinvent the wheel.” Such non-genetic transmission is what underlies our rich cultural world and the behavioral traditions observed among certain nonhuman primate species. Research with primates has demonstrated that they learn more quickly, and are more successful in their learning, after observing a social model than after seeing the mechanics of a task alone. However, little is known about why social information is so potent. In this talk, I will discuss the different techniques that have been used to explore how and why models with agency are so integral to primate learning. Emerging research suggests an interplay between social learning and memory. To illustrate this relationship I will describe a recent study run at Lincoln Park Zoo that revealed that apes have better recall for events featuring a social model compared to agentless events. In concert with data from studies with human infants, the reported influence of a social model on chimpanzee and gorilla event memory suggests a foundational importance for social stimuli that appears shared among the Hominidae. Following this, social models aid memory for events and this memory in turn buoys imitative social learning.