Social Conformity 'not Unique To Humans'

2nd July 2010

Social conformity is not just a human trait, according to new research from the University of St Andrews.


Psychologists at the university found that monkeys will copy the behaviour of other animals.


The researchers say their study shows that the act of copying the masses within a community may be widespread among animals.


During the study, Dr Marietta Dindo and Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, taught two capuchan monkeys separate techniques to find food behind a sliding door.


After showing them how it was done, each monkey was returned to its own community.

They found that most monkeys soon learned how to reach the food using the technique adopted by the monkey returned to their group.


Of particular interest to the researchers was that despite a majority of the monkeys discovering the alternative method, they mainly stuck to the method most common in their group.


Professor Whiten said: "This is conformity. We know that we humans have a marked tendency to conform – to do what others are doing just because that is what everybody else is doing.


"That has been assumed to be a result of our species dependence on all things we need to inherit culturally, from language to technology.


"Our new findings suggest that the drive to copy what a majority of your community do may be a potent and more widespread effect among animals than could have been imagined some years ago."


The work is now being followed up in Scotland at the "Living Links to Human Evolution" Research Centre of the University of St Andrews, which houses mixed species communities of capuchins and squirrel monkeys in Edinburgh Zoo.