Do animals really learn from one another?

06 June 2010

Question

I'm not so convinced by the mongoose experiment. What do young do if they've never watched an adult? I'm rather inclined to think that these things come to wild creatures entirely by natural instincts.

Answer

Malc was referring to this news story, about an experiment where young Mongooses (Mongeese?) appeared to learn from their elders the technique for getting into fiddly food items.

Chris - It's a good point. These animals obviously know how to pick things up and they know how to manipulate them in their paws, so that's instinctive. But how they actually choose to break into the object is obviously something they pick up from an adult. The researchers did control for that instance that you've raised because by giving the escort animal the open egg, the young pups didn't have to watch an adult breaking into it. So therefore, when they came to open one themselves, they either chose to smash it on something or to gnaw into it. And they showed equal numbers of them doing either, showing there was no bias. So they do it by instinct, but they choose to do one thing or the other based on what they're shown how to do in certain situations by an adult or an older animal.

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