UGA psychology professor learns what monkeys see, humans do

Language and Tools Development Study

Language and Tools Development Study

This is Leo, an adult male tufted capuchin monky, using a touchscreen system in the study's lab.

Posted: Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:00 am

UGA psychology professor learns what monkeys see, humans do

Arvind Deol


A University of Georgia psychology professor is using monkeys to discover the basics of learning.

To see whether humans are alone in the ability pick up skills, Dorothy Fragaszy and other collaborating authors from around the world began studying humans’ closet ancestors, the primates.

Fragaszy is also the director of the Primate Cognition and Behavior Laboratory, a psychology department laboratory dedicated to answering psychological questions through the study of primates.

The study was funded by National Geographic, The LSB Leakey Foundation, a research organization dedicated to the study of human origin and the University of Georgia and took place in both South Africa and Fazenda Boa Vista and its adjacent lands in Brazil.

The study, published Oct. 7 in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, a publication dedicated to topics such as biology, looked at a broad range of tool wielding primates, including the great apes.

The researchers looked specifically at orangutans and chimpanzees in South Africa. Fragaszy and her team focused on one of her personal favorites, the capuchin monkey, found in Brazil.

“The thrust of our work in this project is to understand how a young monkey becomes proficient at tools usage, things such as using rocks to crack open nuts,” Fragaszy said. “Despite what people think, tool usage is very uncommon. It's know to occur in only four species spontaneously in the wild. This includes great apes, capuchin monkeys and long tailed macaques.”

Fragaszy’s research focuses on how the capuchin monkeys learn the skills they need to use rocks as tools to gather food, including picking nuts, finding a large stone to break the nut on and finding a stone with the right weight to break open the nut.

“All capuchin monkeys are very manipulative, extractive and creative foragers. Their specialty is going after tough foods. Foods they have to catch, tear out of the earth or break open to get to,” Fragaszy said.

Like human children, Fragaszy said young capuchin monkeys watch older family and friends collect food, such as cracking nuts.

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Saturday, November 2, 2013 10:00 am.

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