Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) rapidly learn to select dominant individuals in videos of artificial social interactions between unfamiliar conspecifics

Regina Paxton, Benjamin M. Basile, Ikuma Adachi, Wendy A. Suzuki, Mark E. Wilson, Robert R. Hampton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Social animals, such as primates, must behave appropriately in complex social situations such as dominance interactions. Learning dominance information through trial and error would be dangerous; therefore, cognitive mechanisms for rapid learning of dominance information by observation would be adaptive. We used a set of digitally edited artificial social interactions to examine whether rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) can learn dominance relationships between unfamiliar conspecifics through observation. Our method allowed random assignment of stimulus monkeys to ranks in an artificial hierarchy, controlling for nonbehavioral cues that could indicate dominance. Subject monkeys watched videos depicting 1 stimulus monkey behaving dominantly toward another and were rewarded for selecting the dominant individual. Monkeys rapidly learned this discrimination across 5 behavior types in Experiment 1 and transferred performance to novel videos of new individuals in Experiment 2. In addition, subjects selected the dominant individual more often than expected by chance in probe videos containing no behavioral dominance information, indicating some retention of the relative dominance status of stimulus monkeys from training. Together, our results suggest that monkeys can learn dominance hierarchies through observation of third-party social interactions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-401
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Comparative Psychology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 1 2010



  • Computerized testing
  • Hierarchy
  • Observation
  • Social behavior
  • Social cognition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)

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