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Social networks shape monkey ‘culture’ too

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Posted June 28, 2013
A squirrel monkey hunts a criptic insect while other monkeys watch. Credit: Current Biology, Claidiere et al.

A squirrel monkey hunts a criptic insect while other monkeys watch. Credit: Current Biology, Claidiere et al.

Of course Twitter and Facebook are all the rage, but the power of social networks didn’t start just in the digital age. A new study on squirrel monkeys reported inCurrent Biology, a Cell Press publication, on June 27 finds that monkeys with the strongest social networks catch on fastest to the latest in foraging crazes. They are monkey trendsters.

The researchers, led by Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, made the discovery by combining social network analysis with more traditional social learning experiments. By bringing the two together, they offer what they say is the first demonstration of how social networks may shape the spread of new cultural techniques. It’s an approach they hope to see adopted in studies of other social animals.

“Our study shows that innovations do not just spread randomly in primate groups but, as in humans, are shaped by the monkeys’ social networks,” Whiten said.

Whiten, along with Nicolas Claidière, Emily Messer, and William Hoppitt, traced the monkeys’ social networks by recording which monkeys spent time together in the vicinity of “artificial fruits” that could be manipulated to extract tempting food rewards. Sophisticated statistical analysis of those data revealed the monkeys’ social networks, with some individuals situated at the heart of the network and others more on the outside. The researchers rated each of the monkeys on their “centrality,” or social status in the network, with the highest ratings going to monkeys with the most connections to other well-connected individuals.

Read more at: Phys.org

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