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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Vale, G., Flynn, E., Pender, L., Price, E., Whiten, A., Lambeth, P., Schapiro, S. & Kendal, R. (2016). Robust retention and transfer of tool construction techniques in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). The Journal of Comparative Psychology 130(1): 24-35.

Author(s) from Durham


Long-term memory can be critical to a species’ survival in environments with seasonal and even longer-term cycles of resource availability. The present, longitudinal study investigated whether complex tool behaviors used to gain an out-of-reach reward, following a hiatus of about 3 years and 7 months since initial experiences with a tool use task, were retained and subsequently executed more quickly by experienced than by naïve chimpanzees. Ten of the 11 retested chimpanzees displayed impressive long-term procedural memory, creating elongated tools using the same methods employed years previously, either combining 2 tools or extending a single tool. The complex tool behaviors were also transferred to a different task context, showing behavioral flexibility. This represents some of the first evidence for appreciable long-term procedural memory, and improvements in the utility of complex tool manufacture in chimpanzees. Such long-term procedural memory and behavioral flexibility have important implications for the longevity and transmission of behavioral traditions.

School of Education