For the study, the alpha male of each of two groups of capuchins was trained to open an artificial foraging device in a different way, using either a slide or lift action, then reunited with his group. In each group, a majority of monkeys subsequently mastered the task. Although a majority of the monkeys also discovered the alternative method, each monkey that successfully opened the device continuously imitated and adopted the technique seeded by the alpha male of the group as the primary method.
"Being able to understand and learn about another's actions and then adopt that behavior is how a tradition if formed," says lead Yerkes researcher Marietta Dindo.
"We previously assumed cultural transmission of behaviors is unique to humans and their closest genetic relatives, chimpanzees. Our findings suggest the underlying mechanism that supports culture may be based on a very simple principle of acting like and identifying with those around you."
Dindo trained under Emory primatologist Frans de Waal, who credits the study as a promising first step to take cultural studies from apes to monkeys.