Through Their Eyes: The Influence of Social Models on Attention and Memory in Capuchin Monkeys (Sapajus apella)

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The ability to learn socially is of critical importance across a wide variety of species, as it allows knowledge to be passed quickly among individuals without the need of time-consuming trial-and-error learning. Among primates, social learning research has been particularly focused on foraging tasks, including transmission dynamics and the demonstration characteristics that appear to support social learning. Less work has focused on the attentional salience of the information being viewed, especially in New World monkeys. We used a noninvasive eye-tracking paradigm previously used in human infants and great apes to examine the salience of social modeling for memory in capuchin monkeys. Like human infants and apes, capuchins were significantly more likely to remember an event that included a social model as opposed to a nonsocial model. This article provides some of the first evidence that capuchin memory is altered by the presence of a social model and presents a novel method for assessing cognitive capabilities in this species. Whether this “social memory bias” is shared across the primate order, or is present only in taxa that regularly rely on social information, is an important avenue for future research.

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