©Christine Langer-Pueschel/shutterstock.com

©Christine Langer-Pueschel/shutterstock.com

 (Relaxnews) – In non-verbal contexts, learning occurs primarily through the observation and imitation of a model. In a recent study on this process in monkeys, researchers found that the learner’s ability to identify with the model appears to be an essential condition of learning.

To explore the effectiveness of different modes of non-verbal social learning, researchers from the Lyon Neuroscience Research Center in France chose to work with rhesus macaques, a species of monkeys known for their biological proximity to humans and their ability to imitate.

Monkeys trained to find a food reward hidden by an object were tested with three different learning models in succession. The first model was another macaque, who immediately ate the reward once it was found. The second was a “stimulus-enhancing” human, who actively drew the monkey’s attention to the object concealing the food. Finally, the third model was a “monkey-like” human who performed the task exactly as the monkey would, including eating the food reward.

After each of these exercises, the researchers evaluated the monkeys’ learning by testing whether they were capable of reproducing the same results on their own.

“The results show that monkeys learn more effectively if the exercise is demonstrated by a model that acts like they do, in other words, who eats the reward once it has been found,” explain the study’s authors in a press release. “It even seems that this is an essential condition for skill transfer,” indicates co-author Elisabetta Monfardini.

Another key finding was that modeling errors optimized learning success rather than hindering it. In other words, the monkeys learned more effectively from monkeys or humans who did not complete the task perfectly the first time.

In light of the psychological similarities between macaque monkeys and humans, the researchers indicate that their findings could have applications in schools. “When a schoolteacher calls one of the brightest students to the board to show an example, this may not be the best strategy. Perhaps choosing a pupil who makes mistakes, with which the others can identify, will better stimulate learning,” Monfardini suggests.