Animal Cognition

, 12:63 | Cite as

Comparing responses to novel objects in wild baboons (Papio ursinus) and geladas (Theropithecus gelada)

  • Thore J. BergmanEmail author
  • Dawn M. Kitchen
Original Paper


Behavioral flexibility is considered by some to be one of the hallmarks of advanced cognitive ability. One measure of behavioral flexibility is how subjects respond to novel objects. Despite growing interest in comparative cognition, no comparative research on neophilia in wild primates has been conducted. Here, we compare responses to novel objects in wild chacma baboons (Papio ursinus) and geladas (Theropithecus gelada). Baboons and geladas are closely related taxa, yet they differ in their ecology and degree of social tolerance: (1) baboons are habitat and dietary generalists, whereas geladas have one of the most specialized primate diets (90% grass); (2) baboons exhibit an aversion toward extra-group individuals, whereas geladas typically exhibit an attraction toward them. Using subjects of all age and sex classes, we examined responses to three different objects: a plastic doll, a rubber ball, and a metal can. Overall, baboon subjects exhibited stronger responses to the objects (greater neophilia and exploration) than gelada subjects, yet we found no evidence that the geladas were afraid of the objects. Furthermore, baboons interacted with the objects in the same way they might interact with a potential food item. Responses were unrelated to sex, but immatures showed more object exploration than adults. Results corroborate novel object research conducted in captive populations and suggest that baboons and geladas have differences in behavioral flexibility (at least in this cognitive domain) that have been shaped by ecological (rather than social) differences between the two species.


Novel objects Neophilia Exploration Primate Neophobia Theropithecus gelada Papio ursinus Baboon Cognition 



We are grateful to the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Department, the Amhara National Regional State Parks Development and Protection Authority, and the wardens and staff of the Simien Mountains National Park for granting us the permission to conduct this research. We thank the Office of the President and the Department of Wildlife and National Parks of the Republic of Botswana for permission to conduct research in the Moremi Reserve. We are grateful to J. Beehner and H. Gelaye for their help with data collection in Ethiopia and to A. Mokupi and J. Nicholson for their help with data collection in Botswana. Funding for the Ethiopia research was provided by the Wildlife Conservation Society (SSF Grant #67250) and the University of Michigan. We thank J. Beehner and anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on the manuscript. Funding for the Botswana research was provided by The Ohio State University. This research was approved by institutional Animal Care and Use Committees and adhered to the laws and guidelines of both countries.

Supplementary material

ESM1 (MOV 2.16 mb)

ESM2 (MOV 1.75 mb)


  1. Aich H, Zimmermann E, Rahmann H (1987) Social position reflected by contact call emission in gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada). Z Säugetierk 52:52–60Google Scholar
  2. Aich H, Moos-Heilen R, Zimmermann E (1990) Vocalizations of adult gelada baboons (Theropithecus gelada): Acoustic structure and behavioural context. Folia Primatol 55:109–132PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Aldrich-Blake FPG, Dunn TK, Dunbar RIM, Headley PM (1971) Observations on baboons, Papio anubis, in an arid region in Ethiopia. Folia Primatol 15:1–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Altmann SA (1998) Foraging for survival: Yearling baboons in Africa. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  5. Altmann SA, Altmann J (1970) Baboon ecology. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  6. Barton RA (2006) Primate brain evolution: integrating comparative, neurophysiological, and ethological data. Evol Anthro 15:224–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bulger JB, Hamilton WJ (1987) Rank and density correlates of inclusive fitness measures in a natural chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) population. Int J Primatol 8:635–650CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Byers JA, Walker C (1995) Refining the motor training hypothesis for the evolution of play. Am Nat 146:25–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Byrne R, Whiten A (1988) Machiavellian intelligence: social expertise and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes and humans. Oxford University Press, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  10. Cambefort JP (1981) Comparative study of culturally transmitted patterns of feeding habits in the chacma baboon (Papio ursinus) and the vervet monkey (Cercopithecus aethiops). Folia Primatol 36:243–263PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cheney DL, Seyfarth RM (1977) Behaviour of adult and immature male baboons during intergroup encounters. Nature 269:404–406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cheney DL, Seyfarth RM (2007) Baboon metaphysics: the evolution of a social mind. University of Chicago Press, ChicagoGoogle Scholar
  13. Cheney DL, Seyfarth RM, Fischer J, Beehner JC, Bergman TJ, Johnson SE, Kitchen DM, Palombit RA, Rendall D, Silk JB (2004) Factors affecting reproduction and mortality among baboons in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. Int J Primatol 25:401–428CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Clarke AS, Lindburg DG (1993) Behavioral contrasts between male cynomolgus and lion-tailed macaques. Am J Primatol 29:49–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coleman K, Wilson DS (1998) Shyness and boldness in pumpkinseed sunfish: individual differences are context specific. Anim Behav 56:927–936PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cowlishaw G (1997) Trade-offs between foraging and predation risk determine habitat use in a desert baboon population. Anim Behav 53:667–686CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Crook JH (1966) Gelada baboon herd structure and movement: a comparative report. Symp Zool Soc Lond 18:237–258Google Scholar
  18. Day RL, Coe RL, Kendal JR, Laland KN (2003) Neophilia, innovation and social learning: a study of intergeneric differences in callitrichid monkeys. Anim Behav 65:559–571CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. di Bitetti MS, Janson CH (2001) Social foraging and the finder’s share in capuchin monkeys, Cebus apella. Anim Behav 62:47–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. di Fiore A, Rendall D (1994) Evolution of social organization: A reappraisal for primates by using phylogenetic methods. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 91:9941–9945PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dingemanse NJ, Reale D (2005) Natural selection and animal personality. Behaviour 142:1159–1184CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Dingemanse NJ, Both C, Drent PJ, Van Oers K, Van Noordwijk AJ (2002) Repeatability and heritability of exploratory behaviour in great tits from the wild. Anim Behav 64:929–938CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Dingemanse NJ, Both C, van Noordwijk AJ, Rutten AL, Drent PJ (2003) Natal dispersal and personalities in great tits (Parus major). Proc R Soc Lond Ser B Biol Sci 270:741–747CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Drea CM (1998) Social context affects how rhesus monkeys explore their environment. Am J Primatol 44:205–214PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Dunbar RIM (1977) Feeding ecology of gelada baboons: a preliminary report. In: Clutton-Brock TH (ed) Primate ecology. Academic Press, London, pp 250–273Google Scholar
  26. Dunbar RIM (1983) Structure of gelada baboon reproductive units. IV. Integration at group level. Z Tierpsychol 63:265–282Google Scholar
  27. Dunbar RIM (1984) Reproductive decisions: an economic analysis of Gelada baboon social strategies. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar
  28. Dunbar RIM (1992) Time: a hidden constraint on the behavioural ecology of baboons. Behav Ecol Sociobiol 31:35–49CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Dunbar RIM (1993) Social organization of the gelada. In: Jablonski NG (ed) Theropithecus: the rise and fall of a primate genus. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 425–439Google Scholar
  30. Dunbar RIM, Bose U (1991) Adaptation to grass-eating in gelada baboons. Primates 32:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dunbar RIM, Dunbar P (1975) Social dynamics of gelada baboons. S. Karger, BaselGoogle Scholar
  32. Fairbanks LA (1993) Juvenile vervet monkeys: Establishing relationships and practicing skills for the future. In: Pereira ME, Fairbanks LA (eds) Juvenile primates: life history, development. and behavior. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 211–227Google Scholar
  33. Fragaszy DM, Mason WA (1978) Response to novelty in Saimiri and Callicebus: influence of social context. Primates 19:311–331CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Fraser DF, Gilliam JF, Daley MJ, Le AN, Skalski GT (2001) Explaining leptokurtic movement distributions: intrapopulation variation in boldness and exploration. Am Nat 158:124–135PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Glickman SE, Sroges RW (1966) Curiosity in zoo animals. Behaviour 26:151–188PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Greenberg R (1984) Differences in feeding neophobia in the tropical migrant wood warblers Dendroica castanea and D. pensylvanica. J Comp Psychol 98:131–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Greenberg R (1989) Neophobia, aversion to open space, and ecological plasticity in Song and Swamp sparrows. Can J Zool 67:1194–1199Google Scholar
  38. Greenberg R (1990) Feeding neophobia and ecological plasticity: a test of the hypothesis with captive sparrows. Anim Behav 39:375–379CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Greenberg R (2003) The role of neophobia and neophilia in the development of innovative behaviour of birds. In: Reader SM, Laland KN (eds) Animal innovation. Oxford University Press, New York, pp 175–196Google Scholar
  40. Grüter CC, Zinner D (2004) Nested societies: convergent adaptations of baboons and snub-nosed monkeys? Primate Report 70:1–98Google Scholar
  41. Hamilton WJ, Buskirk RE, Buskirk WH (1975) Chacma baboon tactics during intertroop encounters. J Mammal 56:857–870PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Harvey PH, Martin RD, Clutton-Brock TH (1987) Life histories in comparative perspective. In: Smuts BB, Cheney DL, Seyfarth RM, Wrangham RW, Struhsaker TT (eds) Primate societies. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp 180–196Google Scholar
  43. Henrich B (1995) Neophilia and exploration in juvenile common ravens, Corvus corax. Anim Behav 50:695–704CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Henzi SP, Barrett L (2005) The historical socioecology of savanna baboons (Papio hamadryas). J Zool Lond 265:215–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Henzi SP, Lycett JE, Weingrill T (1998) Mate guarding and risk assessment by male mountain baboons during inter-troop encounters. Anim Behav 55:1421–1428PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Humphrey NK (1976) The social function of intellect. In: Bateson PPG, Hinde RA (eds) Growing points in ethology. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 303–317Google Scholar
  47. Hunter CP (2001) Ecological determinants of gelada ranging patterns (Theropithecus gelada). PhD dissertation, The University of LiverpoolGoogle Scholar
  48. Iwamoto T (1979) Feeding ecology. In: Kawai M (ed) Ecological and sociological studies of Gelada baboons. S. Karger, Basel, pp 280–330Google Scholar
  49. Iwamoto T (1993) The ecology of Theropithecus gelada. In: Jablonski NG (ed) Theropithecus: the rise and fall of a primate genus. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 441–452Google Scholar
  50. Iwamoto T, Dunbar RIM (1983) Thermoregulation, habitat quality and the behavioural ecology of gelada baboons. J Anim Ecol 52:357–366CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Johnson SE, Bock J (2004) Trade-offs in skill acquisition and time allocation among juvenile chacma baboons. Hum Nat 15:45–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Jolly A (1966) Lemur social behavior and primate intelligence. Science 153:501–506PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Jolly CJ (1972) The classification and natural history of Theropithecus, baboons of the African Plio-pleistocene. Bull Br Mus Nat Hist 22:1–123Google Scholar
  54. Joubert A, Vauclair J (1986) Reaction to novel objects in a troop of Guinea baboons: approach and manipulation. Behaviour 96:92–104CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Katzir G (1982) Relationships between social structure and response to novelty in captive jackdaws, Corvus monedula, I. Response to novel space. Behaviour 81:231–264CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Kawai M (1979) Auditory communication and social relations. In: Kawai M (ed) Ecological and sociological studies of Gelada baboons. S. Karger, Basel, pp 219–241Google Scholar
  57. Kendal RL, Coe RL, Laland KN (2005) Age differences in neophilia, exploration, and innovation in family groups of callitrichid monkeys. Am J Primatol 66:167–188PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Kitchen DM, Cheney DL, Seyfarth RM (2004) Factors mediating inter-group encounters in chacma baboons (Papio cynocephalus ursinus). Behaviour 141:197–218CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Laidre ME (2007) Spontaneous performance of wild baboons on three novel food-access puzzles. Anim Cogn 11:223–230. doi: 10.1007/s10071-007-0104-5 PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lefebvre L, Reader SM, Sol D (2004) Brains, innovations and evolution in birds and primates. Brain Behav Evol 63:233–246PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Lewis KP (2000) A comparative study of primate play behaviour: implications for the study of cognition. Folia Primatol 71:417–421PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Martin LB, Fitzgerald L (2005) A taste for novelty in invading house sparrows, Passer domesticus. Behav Ecol 16:702–707CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Menzel EW Jr (1966) Responsiveness to objects in free-ranging Japanese monkeys. Behaviour 26:130–150PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Menzel EW (1971) Group behavior in young chimpanzees. Responsiveness to cumulative novel changes in a large outdoor enclosure. J Comp Physiol Psychol 74:46–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Mettke-Hofmann C, Winkler H, Leisler B (2002) The significance of ecological factors for exploration and neophobia in parrots. Ethology 108:249–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Milton K (1988) Foraging behaviour and the evolution of primate intelligence. In: Byrne RW, Whiten A (eds) Machiavellian intelligence: social expertise and the evolution of intellect in monkeys, apes and humans. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 285–305Google Scholar
  67. Mori U (1979) Social structure of gelada baboons. In: Kawai M (ed) Ecological and sociological studies of Gelada baboons. S. Karger, Basel, pp 243–246Google Scholar
  68. Mori A, Belay G (1990) The distribution of baboon species and a new population of Gelada baboons along the Wabi-Shebeli River, Ethiopia. Primates 31:495–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Norton GW, Rhine RJ, Wynn GW, R.D. W (1987) Baboon diet: a five-year study of stability and variability in the plant feeding and habitat of the yellow baboon (Papio cynocephalus) of Mikumi National Park, Tanzania. Folia Primatol 48:78–120Google Scholar
  70. Ohsawa H (1979) Herd dynamics. In: Kawai M (ed) Ecological and sociological studies of Gelada baboons. S. Karger, Basel, pp 47–80Google Scholar
  71. Page SL, Chiu CH, Goodman M (1999) Molecular phylogeny of Old World monkeys (Cercopithecidae) as inferred from gamma-globin DNA sequences. Mol Phylogenet Evol 13:348–359PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Parker ST, Gibson KR (1977) Object manipulation, tool use and sensorimotor intelligence as feeding adaptations in early hominids. J Hum Evol 6:623–641CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Reader SM, Laland KN (eds) (2003) Animal innovation. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  74. Reader SM, MacDonald K (2003) Environmental variability and primate behavioural flexibility. In: Reader SM, Laland KN (eds) Animal innovation. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp 83–116Google Scholar
  75. Richman B (1976) Some vocal distinctive features used by gelada monkeys. J Acoust Soc Am 60:718–724PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Roth G, Dicke U (2005) Evolution of the brain and intelligence. Trends Cog Sci 9:250–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Rowell TE (1966) Forest living baboons in Uganda. J Zool 149:344–364Google Scholar
  78. Sih A, Bell AM, Johnson JC, Ziemba RE (2004) Behavioral syndromes: an integrative overview. Q Rev Biol 79:241–277PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Sol D, Lefebvre L (2000) Behavioural flexibility predicts invasion success in birds introduced to New Zealand. Oikos 90:599–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Sol D, Duncan RP, Blackburn TM, Cassey P, Lefebvre L (2005) Big brains, enhanced cognition, and response of birds to novel environments. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102:5460–5465PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Spinka M, Newberry RC, Bekoff M (2001) Mammalian play: training for the unexpected. Q Rev Biol 76:141–168PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Stahl J, Tolsma PH, Loonen MJJE, Drent RH (2001) Subordinates explore but dominants profit: resource competition in high Arctic barnacle goose flocks. Anim Behav 61:257–264PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Stöwe M, Bugnyar T, Heinrich B, Kotrschal K (2006a) Effects of group size on approach to novel objects in ravens (Corvus corax). Ethology 112:1079–1088CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Stöwe M, Bugnyar T, Loretto M, Schloegl C, Range F, Kotrschal K (2006b) Novel object exploration in ravens (Corus corax): Effects of social relationships. Behav Processes 73:68–75PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Visalberghi E, Janson CH, Agostini I (2003) Response toward novel foods and novel objects in wild Cebus apella. Int J Primatol 24:653–675CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Vitale AF, Visalberghi E, De Lillo C (1991) Responses to a snake model in captive crab-eating macaques (Macaca fasicularis) and captive tufted capuchins (Cebus apella). Int J Primatol 12:277–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Webster SJ, Lefebvre L (2000) Neophobia by the Lesser-Antillean Bullfinch, a foraging generalist, and the Bananaquit, a nectar specialist. Wilson Bull 112:424–427CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Webster SJ, Lefebvre L (2001) Problem solving and neophobia in a columbiform-passeriform assemblage in Barbados. Anim Behav 62:23–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Whiten A, Byrne RW, Henzi SP (1987) The behavioral ecology of mountain baboons. Int J Primatol 8:367–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Yalden DWM, Largen MJ, Kock D (1977) Catalogue of the mammals of Ethiopia. 3. Primates. Monitor Zoologico Italiano Suppl. IX, vol 1, pp 1–52Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA

Personalised recommendations