Lifestyle & Belief

Monkeys conform to certain diets just like humans, study shows


A new study has shown that monkeys conform to culture-specific eating behaviors when given a choice.


Christof Stache

A new study shows that monkeys succumb to peer pressure just like the rest of us.

Researchers at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland found that wild vervet monkeys conform to culture-specific behaviors, particulary while eating.

The study showed when given the choice between two different foods, baby monkeys ate the food their mothers eat.

Scientists found this by giving monkeys two colors of corn with one tasting bad and the other good. Another group of monkeys got the same treatment but they reversed the colors of what corn tasted good.

Even when researchers made the opposite color taste good after a few months, the monkeys stuck with the color they were used to despite the corn now being identical in taste.

Baby monkeys ate exactly the same as their mothers, even if they hadn't tasted either color of corn.

When mating season came around and the males were moved into another group that ate the opposite color of corn, they also began eating the color their new group was eating.

The scientists say that it's social learning, also known as conformity, driving this behavior.

The New York Times spoke to Carel van Schaik, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland.

He said about the study:  

“Until relatively recently, culture was thought to be something only humans had."

“But if you define culture as socially transmitted knowledge, skills and information, it turns out that we see some of that in animals. Now this experiment comes along and I must say it really blew me away.”

The study was published in the journal Science.