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Cultural norms not unique to human societies

Humans are not alone in their desire to conform to cultural norms, according to new study findings that confirm, for the first time, chimpanzees share the same conformist tendencies. Researchers, in determining how chimpanzee communities share and maintain traditions, discovered they possess a natural motivation to copy their peers well into adulthood and say that although other species show some cultural behaviors, the level of cultural variation shown by chimpanzees is exceeded only by humans. The study, conducted at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University by a collaborative team of scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom, is published in the current online edition of Nature.

Unlike previous studies that used human models for cultural-learning experiments with chimpanzees, researchers Victoria Horner, PhD, and Frans B. M. de Waal, PhD, of the Living Links Center at the Yerkes Research Center, and Andrew Whiten, PhD, of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, applied a unique method that extends the experimental approach to the group

level, focuses on ape-to-ape transmission and uses a two-action methodology. This approach bridges the gap between two conventional research methods: population-level observations on wild apes and one-to-one social learning experiments.

In the study, researchers introduced a naturalistic foraging task into three groups (two experimental and one control) to see if chimpanzees can learn by observation. While unseen by other chimpanzees, researchers taught a high-ranking female from each of the two experimental groups a different way, either Lift or Poke, to retrieve food from a system of tubes called Pan-pipes. Once the two females mastered the task, other chimpanzees within their groups were allowed to watch them perform the new skill over a seven-day period before all group members were allowed to use the tool. According to the researchers, group members gathered around
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Source:Emory University Health Sciences Center


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