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Children conform the behavior of peers; Other great apes stick with what they know

Haun, D. B. M., Rekers, Y., & Tomasello, M. (2014). Children conform the behavior of peers; Other great apes stick with what they know. Psychological Science, 25, 2160-2167. doi:10.1177/0956797614553235.
All primates learn things from conspecifics socially, but it is not clear whether they conform to the behavior of these conspecifics—if conformity is defined as overriding individually acquired behavioral tendencies in order to copy peers’ behavior. In the current study, chimpanzees, orangutans, and 2-year-old human children individually acquired a problem-solving strategy. They then watched several conspecific peers demonstrate an alternative strategy. The children switched to this new, socially demonstrated strategy in roughly half of all instances, whereas the other two great-ape species almost never adjusted their behavior to the majority’s. In a follow-up study, children switched much more when the peer demonstrators were still present than when they were absent, which suggests that their conformity arose at least in part from social motivations. These results demonstrate an important difference between the social learning of humans and great apes, a difference that might help to account for differences in human and nonhuman cultures

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