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Keywords:

  • social learning;
  • infants;
  • vertical transmission;
  • marmoset;
  • foraging

Abstract

High levels of social tolerance are considered to promote social learning, as they allow direct observation of a manipulating conspecific and facilitate scrounging. Owing to tolerance toward infants, infancy is thought to be especially suited for learning socially transmitted behaviors. Despite this, few studies have investigated social learning of infants, particularly in manipulative tasks where observation might be most helpful. Here, we investigated (1) the influence of social learning on task acquisition in infant marmosets, and (2) whether the mother augments her behavior in a way that may enhance social learning by her infants. We tested infant and juvenile marmosets in four different complex foraging-related tasks, featuring large living insects (two tasks) or artificially embedded prey (two tasks). Each individual observed the mother solving two of the tasks and served as a control in the other two tasks. Observers manipulated more and succeeded sooner than control animals, suggesting that observing the mother promoted learning either directly or by decreasing neophobia. Moreover, the data suggest that learning in 11–15 week-old infants might be promoted actively by the mother. She solved the tasks, consumed less food, and consumed it later than when foraging with older offspring or alone. Furthermore, the results indicate the possible importance of the third and fourth month of infancy as the crucial ontogenetic period for social learning in marmosets, corroborating recent observations of free-living common marmosets. Am. J. Primatol. 71:503–509, 2009. © 2009 Wiley-Liss, Inc.