Can Animals, like Humans, Learn Socially?

F1.mediumOr is animal behavior determined only by genes and individual learning?  In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Science [340:483-5(2013)], researchers showed that when Vervet monkeys roam, they behave in socially adaptive fashion. Wild Vervet monkeys, trained to eat only pink-dyed or blue-dyed corn and shun the other color, quickly began eating the disliked-color corn when they moved from a pink-preferred setting to a blue-is-best place, and vice versa. The switch occurred even though both corn colors were equally accessible, side-by-side in open containers. Scientists said the monkeys relinquished their color preferences because they saw the locals eating the disliked hue.
These findings addressed a long-contentious question among animal experts: Culture was thought to be something only humans had. But if you define culture as socially transmitted knowledge, skills and information, it turns out we see some of that in animals. Imagine you’ve just learned to eat pink corn and for a while blue corn was really bad, but then you move to an area where it’s the opposite and suddely you drastically change your behavior. You may think, ‘Oh, these locals, they must know what’s the best thing.’ Most strikingly, when male monkeys migrated from a different-colored region, they ate the local color. These experiments showed that primates change their behaviors to become socially acceptable or to “blend in”.