Social facilitation of eating novel food in tufted capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella): input provided by group members and responses affected in the observer
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- Addessi, E. & Visalberghi, E. Anim.Cogn. (2001) 4: 297. doi:10.1007/s100710100113
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Learning about food palatability from watching what conspecifics eat might be one of the advantages of group living. A previous study investigated whether group members’ presence or eating activity account for social facilitation of eating of foods never previously tasted. Capuchins encountered novel colored foods when (1) alone (Alone condition) or (2) with group members visible in the nearby cage (Group-present condition) or (3) with group members present and eating a familiar food that had not been colored (Group+food condition). Social facilitation of eating occurred when group members were eating, despite the difference in color between the familiar food eaten by them and the novel food presented to the experimental subject. To clarify what subjects learnt from group members when social facilitation occurred, we further analyze here the data from the previous study. The number of visual exposures to the colored novel food (as a group member) correlated with increased consumption of that novel food when encountered later (as experimental subject). In contrast, the number of times that an individual fed on the familiar food (as a group member) did not decrease its consumption of novel food (as experimental subject). Therefore, capuchins (1) habituated to the colors of the novel foods, and (2) did not take into account that seeing group members eating a food does not provide information about the palatability of a differently colored food. Since social facilitation of eating occurs when foods do not match in color, at least in capuchins, social facilitation of eating should not be considered as a way of learning about a safe diet, but rather as a way of overcoming neophobia.