Learning & Behavior

, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 206–219

Social learning in new Caledonian crows


    • Department of PsychologyUniversity of Auckland
  • Gavin R. Hunt
    • Department of PsychologyUniversity of Auckland
  • Russell D. Gray
    • Department of PsychologyUniversity of Auckland

DOI: 10.3758/LB.38.3.206

Cite this article as:
Holzhaider, J.C., Hunt, G.R. & Gray, R.D. Learning & Behavior (2010) 38: 206. doi:10.3758/LB.38.3.206


New Caledonian (NC) crows are the most sophisticated tool manufacturers other than humans. The diversification and geographical distribution of their three Pandanus tool designs that differ in complexity, as well as the lack of ecological correlates, suggest that cumulative technological change has taken place. To investigate the possibility that high-fidelity social transmission mediated this putative ratchet-like process, we studied the ontogeny of Pandanus tool manufacture and social organization in free-living NC crows. We found that juvenile crows took more than 1 year to reach adult proficiency in their Pandanus tool skills. Although trial-and-error learning is clearly important, juveniles have ample opportunity to learn about Pandanus tool manufacture by both observing their parents and interacting with artifactual material. The crows’ social system seems likely to promote the faithful social transmission of local tool designs by both favoring the vertical transmission of tool information and minimizing horizontal transmission. We suggest that NC crows develop their Pandanus tool skills in a highly scaffolded learning environment that facilitates the cumulative technological evolution of tool designs.

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© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2010