Aug 19, 2014

Ape cultures do not require behavior copying

Gurinder Singh AtwalClaudio Tennie


While culture is widespread in the animal kingdom, human culture has been claimed to be special due to being cumulative. It is currently debated which cognitive abilities support cumulative culture, but behavior copying is one of the main abilities proposed. One important source of contention is the presence or absence of behavior copying in our closest living relatives, non-human great apes (apes) -- especially given that their behavior does not show clear signs of cumulation. Those who claim that apes copy behavior often base this claim on the existence of stable ape cultures in the wild (Whiten et al. 1999; van Schaik et al. 2003). We developed an individual-based model to test whether ape cultural patterns can both emerge and stabilize in the entire absence of any behavior copying, but only allowing for a well-supported alternative social learning mechanism, namely socially-mediated reinnovation, where only the frequency of reinnovation is under social influence, but the form of the behavior is not. Our model reflects wild ape life conditions, including physiological and behavioral individual needs, demographic and spatial features, and the possible range of genetic and ecological variations between populations. Our results...Continue Reading

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