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Even girl chimps learn faster than boy chimps

Ayotola Oronti's picture

         Wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania love to eat termites. They make tools out of flexible stems and grasses, which they poke into termite mounds to pull out the yummy bugs. Termite fishing isn't easy, however, and park researchers wanted to know how young chimps learned the skill.

The new study has demonstrated there is a distinct difference between how quickly females and males pick up this cultural trait, even though mothers showed no preference in teaching sons or daughters.

          Scientists discovered that girl chimps sit quietly by their mothers and closely copy Mom's techniques while the sons would quickly lose patience and break away to play games. The boys spend a lot more time swinging from trees and wrestling, and when they do settle down to fish for termites, they don't bother trying to copy Mom. As a result, the girls master the skill when they're about 31 months old while boys are nearly twice as old before they learn how.

         Many studies have found similar learning differences in human children. At school, girls are more often reported to sit quietly, watch carefully, and learn quickly, while the boys are more likely to run and goof around. Scientists aren't sure what the reasons are for those differences. Is it because girls' and boys' bodies and brains are different? Or does our society encourage boys to run around more? The studies at Gombe may help scientists learn the answer.

                        Copyright Carus Publishing Company Sep 2004