EMORY (US)—When attempting to solve a problem or adopt a new behavior, chimpanzees, like humans, follow the example of their more experienced higher-status betters, new research finds.

The study, published in Public Library of Science One (PLoS One), confirms that the process of learning and adopting new behaviors is shaped by the social characteristics of the individual performing the new behavior.

Anthropologists have long viewed prestige—modeling behavior after celebrities, politicians, and other community leaders—as distinctly human, but the study makes clear that chimpanzees also mimic prominent members of society.

For the study, chimpanzees in two separate groups watched two group mates (distinguished by status and experience) solve a foraging task, each using a different technique.

When the observing chimpanzees were given the opportunity to solve the task, they overwhelmingly preferred the technique used by the more experienced, higher-status individuals with a proven track record of successfully solving such tasks.

“Because both techniques were equally difficult, shown an equal number of times by both models and resulted in equal rewards, we concluded the most copied chimpanzee enjoyed more prestige than the other,” says Victoria Horner, of Emory University’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center.

“If similar biases operate in the wild, the spread of cultural behaviors may be significantly shaped by the characteristics of the original performer,” Horner continues.

Researchers from University of St. Andrews in Scotland and Beloit College contributed to the study.

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