International Journal of Primatology

, Volume 22, Issue 5, pp 787–805

Primate Innovation: Sex, Age and Social Rank Differences

  • Simon M. Reader
  • Kevin N. Laland

DOI: 10.1023/A:1012069500899

Cite this article as:
Reader, S.M. & Laland, K.N. International Journal of Primatology (2001) 22: 787. doi:10.1023/A:1012069500899


Analysis of an exhaustive survey of primate behavior collated from the published literature revealed significant variation in rates of innovation among individuals of different sex, age and social rank. We searched approximately 1,000 articles in four primatology journals, together with other relevant databases, for examples of innovation. The reported incidence of innovation is higher in males and adults, and lower in females and nonadults, than would be expected by chance given the estimated relative proportions of these groups. Amongst chimpanzees, the only species for which there are sufficient data to consider alone, there is a similar sex difference in the propensity to innovate, but no effect of age. Chimpanzees of low social rank are reported as innovators more frequently than high-ranking chimpanzees are. Male chimpanzees innovate more often than females in sexual, courtship, mating and display contexts; that is, in contexts likely to increase access to mates. The largest number of recorded observations are in the foraging context, wherein contrary to expectations, there is no evidence for female chimpanzees exhibiting more innovation than males. The study is the first extensive investigation of behavioral innovation in primates and provides evidence that much individual variation in the propensity to innovate can be explained in terms of sex, age, and social rank.

innovation social learning sex differences social rank behavioral plasticity 

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simon M. Reader
    • 1
  • Kevin N. Laland
    • 1
  1. 1.Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, Department of ZoologyUniversity of CambridgeU.K

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