It seems chimps can have a common culture yet also their own local traditions. Does this mean chimpanzees in Asia would learn to use chopsticks?
Yes, says a study released today, if they saw other groups doing it.
The study confirms captive chimpanzees have the capacity to sustain the same kind of multiple-tradition cultures many researchers believe exist in the wild, providing further evidence chimpanzees and humans shared a common ancestor five to six million years ago who had a similar level of cultural complexity.
For years, primatologists have suggested different communities of chimpanzees across Africa vary in many behavior patterns, indicating they have cultures specific to each community. In the wild, however, it is difficult to prove behaviors are passed on by observation and learning.
In this study,researchers taught tool and food use techniques to high-ranking members of four different chimpanzee communities. They then observed as those techniques were passed on to other members of the communities.
One group taught sequences included collecting, transporting and depositing a token into a bucket or a pipe to receive a food reward from a separate, unrelated location.
After each group of chimpanzees observed a high-ranking female member of its own group complete an action sequence, the majority of the chimpanzees followed that sequence for the remainder of the testing period. Over time, the different methods chosen by each high-ranking female were passed among members of her group, thereby becoming a local tradition.
In all, the researchers observed 10 traditions spread throughout the chimpanzee groups at the Yerkes Research Center and the University of Texas.
“This study nicely summarizes our collaborative work of the last five years, showing we can artificially introduce cultures in chimpanzees, which supports the idea cultural variation observed in the wild is learned,” says Dr. de Waal. “We are the first to show cultures potentially can jump from group to group if you offer chimpanzees the opportunity to watch other groups. It’s a bit like Westerners learning to eat with chopsticks."
The researchers included Frans de Waal, PhD, Victoria Horner, PhD, and Kristin Bonnie from the Yerkes Research Center, lead researchers Andrew Whiten, PhD, and Antoine Spireti from St. Andrews University, and Susan Lambeth, PhD, and Steven Schapiro, PhD, from the University of Texas.
Source: Emory University