Chimps will follow their leader even when it's the stupid thing to do

Illustration for article titled Chimps will follow their leader even when it's the stupid thing to do

Chimpanzees keep showing how smart they are compared to humans, but now there's a big knock against their intelligence - they're seemingly unable to go against the dominant group member, even if it means using a totally ineffective strategy.


This lack of chimp initiative was discovered by Georgia State researcher Lydia Hopper. She trained a female chimp who was dominant in her group to exchange a type of token for a small piece of carrot. She was then placed with five subordinate chimps, and these other chimps quickly learned to copy her behavior.

But here's where things get tricky. Hopper introduced another token, which the subordinate chimps could exchange for the much better reward of grapes. The much preferable strategy then was for the chimps to trade in the second token instead of the first, which four of the five subordinate chimps successfully realized. And yet when the dominant chimp was added back into the mix, all of the subordinate chimps went back to copying her, only exchanging the first token for the carrot.

On the surface, this seems like very poor evidence for chimp intelligence - after all, why would supposedly smart animals throw aside strategies that they've learned work better just to follow the leader? For her part, Hopper actually thinks there's a very smart reason why chimps would do exactly that, and it's for much the same reason that humans follow fashion trends:

"Copying what a dominant group member does could help the chimps to maintain alliances."

It just goes to show you - there's no greater sign of human-like intelligence than a willingness to kiss your boss's ass.

Animal Behaviour via New Scientist.




I'm a broke college student. I can't afford $31.50 just to assuage my curiosity about the methods of scientists whose results I'm seeing on io9.

Can anyone tell me how they determined that the grape trade was preferable to the carrot trade?