Synchronized practice helps bearded capuchin monkeys learn to extend attention while learning a tradition [Psychological and Cognitive Sciences]
Culture extends biology in that the setting of development shapes the traditions that individuals learn, and over time, traditions evolve as occasional variations are learned by others. In humans, interactions with others impact the development of cognitive processes, such as sustained attention, that shape how individuals learn as well as what they learn. Thus, learning itself is impacted by culture. Here, we explore how social partners might shape the development of psychological processes impacting learning a tradition. We studied bearded capuchin monkeys learning a traditional tool-using skill, cracking nuts using stone hammers. Young monkeys practice components of cracking nuts with stones for years before achieving proficiency. We examined the time course of young monkeys’ activity with nuts before, during, and following others’ cracking nuts. Results demonstrate that the onset of others’ cracking nuts immediately prompts young monkeys to start handling and percussing nuts, and they continue these activities while others are cracking. When others stop cracking nuts, young monkeys sustain the uncommon actions of percussing and striking nuts for shorter periods than the more common actions of handling nuts. We conclude that nut-cracking by adults can promote the development of sustained attention for the critical but less common actions that young monkeys must practice to learn this traditional skill. This work suggests that in nonhuman species, as in humans, socially specified settings of development impact learning processes as well as learning outcomes. Nonhumans, like humans, may be culturally variable learners.
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