Watch a Video Teach Old (and Wild) Monkeys a New Trick

Wild Things
Slate’s animal blog.
Sept. 3 2014 4:54 PM

Marmosets Can Learn New Tricks—by Watching a Video

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Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP/Getty Images

Finally, irrefutable evidence that not all TV is bad for your brain. In an attempt to determine whether monkeys can acquire new skills and behaviors from outside of their immediate social group, biologists used a video tutorial to train wild marmosets to open a box. The team, led by Tina Gunhold from the University of Vienna, first recorded already-trained marmosets opening the box (which contained a treat), then outfitted a tree with the box and video, and finally showed the recording to marmosets in the wild.

The video above shows the savvy marmosets in action. All phases of the experiment are on display—from the monkeys watching the video, to the implementation of what they've learned, to their gleeful retreat after they've secured their prize. In addition to being downright cute, it serves as an exceedingly fascinating display of animal ingenuity.

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The results of the study were published in Biology Letters, with the authors stating that not only was the experiment mostly a success (only 12 of the 108 marmosets opened the box, but of those, 11 had watched the video), it was also, to their knowledge, "the first study that used video demonstrations in the wild and demonstrated the potent force of social learning, even from unfamiliar conspecifics, under field conditions."

A.J. McCarthy is a Slate Video blogger.

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