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Shy Baboons

March 12, 2014

Shy baboons are less likely to put what they learn from watching others to use.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

Baboon personalities. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The Taosbis Baboon Project follows habituated baboons in the Namibian desert. (Alecia Carter/Tsaobis Boon Project CC-BY)

The Taosbis Baboon Project follows habituated baboons in the Namibian desert. (Alecia Carter/Tsaobis Baboon Project CC-BY)

Like us, baboons have individual personalities. For instance, they can be bold or shy, and calm or anxious. And, like us, they can learn to do new things by watching others, rather than just by trial and error. But a new study suggests that a baboon’s personality can get in the way of this social learning. Cambridge behavioral ecologist Alecia Carter studied wild chacma baboons in Namibia. She says shy baboons spent just as much time as bold ones observing other baboons as they engaged in novel tasks. But only the bold ones tried these same activities later, while the timid ones steered clear.

ALECIA CARTER (University of Cambridge):

What I suspect is going on is that the individuals know this information, but they’re just too shy to actually do it themselves.

HIRSHON:

She says this aversion to risk-taking could have an influence on baboon culture, because social learning is what allows traditions to get passed down from generation to generation. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.