Action: Primates: Feed individuals in social groups
Key messagesRead our guidance on Key messages before continuing
- One replicated, controlled study in the USA reported that an enrichment task took less time to complete when monkeys were in social groups than when feeding alone.
- One before-and-after study in Italy found that in the presence of their groupmates monkeys ate more unfamiliar foods during the first encounter.
Many primate species feed in social groups in the wild but may be housed individually in captivity either routinely (e.g. in some laboratory contexts) or temporarily (e.g. for medical treatment). Time spent feeding and foraging as a group may be important for reinforcing social structures (Brennan & Anderson, 1998) and for the development of natural feeding behaviours in young animals (Lefebvre 1995). Captive primates can be fed in social groups or given visual access to animals in other enclosures, with the aim of allowing natural group dynamics and social learning of feeding behaviours.
Brennan, J & Anderson, J.R. (1998) Varying responses to feeding competition in a group of rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). Primates, 29, 353-360.
Lefebvre, L. (1995) Culturally-transmitted feeding behaviour in primates: Evidence for accelerating learning rates. Primates, 36, 227-239.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A before-and-after study in 1998 in Italy (Visalberghi et al. 1998) found that capuchins Cebus apella ate more unfamiliar foods when they first encountered them if they were in the presence of their groupmates than if they encountered them when alone. The average number of food samples the capuchins ate averaged six as individuals, but 15 in a social condition. After the first encounter, consumption of the unfamiliar foods became equivalent to when they encountered the food alone. Capuchins were presented with eight novel food types in one of two conditions: individual and social. Each animal received four food types individually and another four with groupmates. (CJ)
A replicated, controlled study in 2009 in the USA (Dindo et al. 2009) reported that completion of an enrichment food task by capuchin monkeys Cebus apella took less time in social situations than when feeding alone, although no statistical tests were carried out. Monkeys with another nearby completed the trial three times faster (100 seconds) than solo monkeys (373 seconds). In each of two groups, 12 of 24 monkeys were randomly assigned to the solo condition and 12 to the social condition. One monkey was in the left side of the test chamber, and either the right remained empty (solo condition), or contained a second monkey with a cup of cereal and peanut butter (social condition). Each left-hand monkey was given food in a clear 28cm square box with a protruding wheel to turn, aligning a hole with a chute that released food into a cup. Each test was measured as the number of seconds it took from presentation of the apparatus to completion of 20 attempts. (CJ)
- Visalberghi E., Valente M. & Fragaszy D. (1998) Social context and consumption of unfamiliar foods by capuchin monkeys(Cebus apella) over repeated encounters. American Journal of Primatology, 45, 367-380
- Dindo M., Whiten A. & De Waal F. (2009) Social facilitation of exploratory foraging behavior in capuchin monkeys (Cebus apella). American Journal of Primatology, 71, 419-426