Social Learning of a Communicative Signal in Captive Chimpanzees


Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology

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The acquisition of linguistic competency from more experienced social partners is a fundamental aspect of human language. However, there is little evidence that non-human primates learn to use their vocalizations from social partners. Captive chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) produce idiosyncratic vocal signals that are used intentionally to capture the attention of a human experimenter. Interestingly, not all apes produce these sounds, and it is unclear what factors explain this difference. We tested the hypothesis that these attention-getting (AG) sounds are socially learned via transmission between mothers and their offspring. We assessed 158 chimpanzees to determine if they produced AG sounds. A significant association was found between mother and offspring sound production. This association was attributable to individuals who were raised by their biological mother—as opposed to those raised by humans in a nursery environment. These data support the hypothesis that social learning plays a role in the acquisition and use of communicative vocal signals in chimpanzees.