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PeerJ. 2017 Sep 22;5:e3814. doi: 10.7717/peerj.3814. eCollection 2017.

Spontaneous reoccurrence of "scooping", a wild tool-use behaviour, in naïve chimpanzees.

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School of Psychology, The University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom.
Department for Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology, The University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany.


Modern human technological culture depends on social learning. A widespread assumption for chimpanzee tool-use cultures is that they, too, are dependent on social learning. However, we provide evidence to suggest that individual learning, rather than social learning, is the driver behind determining the form of these behaviours within and across individuals. Low-fidelity social learning instead merely facilitates the reinnovation of these behaviours, and thus helps homogenise the behaviour across chimpanzees, creating the population-wide patterns observed in the wild (what here we call "socially mediated serial reinnovations"). This is the main prediction of the Zone of Latent Solutions (ZLS) hypothesis. This study directly tested the ZLS hypothesis on algae scooping, a wild chimpanzee tool-use behaviour. We provided naïve chimpanzees (n = 14, Mage = 31.33, SD = 10.09) with ecologically relevant materials of the wild behaviour but, crucially, without revealing any information on the behavioural form required to accomplish this task. This study found that naïve chimpanzees expressed the same behavioural form as their wild counterparts, suggesting that, as the ZLS theory predicts, individual learning is the driver behind the frequency of this behavioural form. As more behaviours are being found to be within chimpanzee's ZLS, this hypothesis now provides a parsimonious explanation for chimpanzee tool cultures.


Algae scooping; Chimpanzee tool-use; Individual learning; Innovation; Social learning; Zone of latent solutions

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare there are no competing interests.

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