Female monkeys are reluctant to follow the example of males even when they would obviously benefit from doing so, new research has found.
A study by St Andrew’s University established that even when males demonstrate superior methods of obtaining food, females would rather mimic each other’s techniques because of an innate distrust of the opposite sex.
The behaviour, which the researchers said echoes some human traits, is rooted in the tendency of male vervet monkeys to roam between groups.
This leads females to believe that males have poor local knowledge because they move around so much.
By contrast, male monkeys are happy to learn from whichever sex appears to be the more effective in a given situation, the study found.
Professor Whiten, of the School of Psychology and Neuroscience at St Andrews, said: “The explanation for the sex difference may be that for females the important thing is to maintain close bonds with the other females they spend their whole lives with in the same group.
“They may be less inclined to copy males, who are likely to have less reliable local knowledge.”
Even when males showed superior skills, their local knowledge was mistrusted
Even when males showed superior skills, their local knowledge was mistrusted Credit: Telegraph
The experiment, published in the journal Current Biology, involved an ‘artificial fruit’ box that could be opened at either its black end or its white end, to extract a piece of apple.
If the dominant female approached, the researchers could use a remote control to ensure that she learned she could get the apple only from one coloured end.
In the same way, the highest ranking males were trained to the other end.
However, the researchers arranged it so these males now got five times more food than did the females.
The researchers wanted to know whether the others in the group would follow their habitual preference to copy the females, or would they now be more flexible, and be swayed by the greater success of the males.
The team found that males showed a significant tendency to copy the successful males rather than the usual preference to copy females.
But females in the group stuck to copying the female demonstrator, despite her relatively lower success.