Speed Reads

it's not just humans

Chimps pass knowledge along from generation to generation, new study finds

Humans aren't the only species that passes knowledge along to the next generation. A new study by primatologists at the University of St. Andrews discovered that chimpanzees also engage in "cumulative practice," a process that allows subsequent generations to build on the skills honed by their elders.

Humans were previously thought to be the only species to employ cumulative practice, but the researchers discovered this chimpanzee capability after presenting a group of chimps with the challenge of using different types of straws to slurp juice out of a container. Some of the straws were simpler, while the most complicated option "needed to be unfolded, with a valve which needed to be unscrewed to create a long straw to reach the juice," the researchers explained.

When one chimpanzee in the group had been trained how to use this complicated straw, the others were able to watch and learn and later use the complex straw too. Scientists noted that chimpanzees only engaged in "cumulative practice" when the easier-to-use straws were taken away, forcing them to innovate. But they rose to the challenge, which Professor Andrew Whiten, who led the study, said suggests that "together they can create more advanced steps in cultural evolution."

"Our chimpanzees were capable of learning increasingly complex behaviors by observing knowledgeable individuals," said lead author Gillian Vale. "This and other recent studies are beginning to show that some non-human animals are better equipped to improve the complexity of their cultural behaviors over time than was previously believed."