Monday, August 22, 2005

When in Rome: Chimps conform like humans.

There are discussions popping up all over about peer pressure in chimp social groups. The researchers designed a puzzle in which food could be obtained by two different solutions, and then trained high-ranking females from two groups in distinct ways to solve it. When the groups were reunited, everyone went along with the expert's distinct way, and a third group, without a ringer, was left nonplussed.

The hook is that the second solution was independently discovered in one group, and spread somewhat; but after the puzzle was removed for some months, everyone reverted to the leader's strategy. Quoted in the Scientific American:

"We have shown a non-human species conforming to a group norm, despite possession of an alternative technique that represents the norm of another group," the team writes in a report published online yesterday by the journal Nature. "Conformity fits the assumption of an intrinsic motivation to copy others, guided by social bonds rather than material rewards such as food."

Nice discussion of similar points is at science daily. . I will update when I find blog entries.

UPDATES: Thinking Meat, a very nice general-science blog, and PsyBlog , with focus on psychology, both have great, non cut-and-paste posts. (Both found via the increasingly balky Technorati search engine.) But first prize without doubt goes to "small-a" afarensis (spelling corrected in the blogroll), who goes into theories of culture and shows what those chimps are doing.
Coturnix at Science and Politics has more links.

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