Einstein Science Reporting for Kids
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American Association for the Advancement of Science

Unlike chimps, young kids share knowledge

Fife school children manipulating the puzzle box.
[Image courtesy of Gillian Ruth Brown]

Young children trying to solve a puzzle collaborated and shared information, while chimps and capuchin monkeys working on the same puzzle did not, according to a new study.

These findings help explain why human culture gets more complex over generations, while that of other animals seems to stay roughly the same. Other animals are capable of learning from each other, so researchers would like to know what special human abilities allow us to have "cumulative culture."

Lewis Dean of the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom and colleagues conducted an experiment that compared the behavior of three-and four-year old children, chimpanzees and capuchin monkeys. Each of these three groups investigated a box-like puzzle that delivered treats in three, increasingly difficult stages. (Carrots, apples and grapes for the monkeys and chimps; stickers for the kids).The trick was to figure out how to move the different parts of the puzzle box to get at the treats.

The children were much more successful at reaching the higher-level stages, and they also did much more sharing and cooperating than the chimps or the monkeys. They imitated each other, explained what they'd learned, and offered stickers to each other. The researchers conclude that this set of behaviors is essential for the development of cumulative culture.

The study appears in the 2 March issue of the journal Science.