, Volume 38, Issue 3, pp 297-309

Identifying teaching in wild animals


After a long period of neglect, the study of teaching in nonhuman animals is beginning to take a more prominent role in research on social learning. Unlike other forms of social learning, teaching requires knowledgeable individuals to play an active role in facilitating learning by the naive. Casting aside anthropocentric requirements for cognitive mechanisms assumed to underpin teaching in our own species, researchers are now beginning to discover evidence for teaching across a wide range of taxa. Nevertheless, unequivocal evidence for teaching remains scarce, with convincing experimental data limited to meerkats, pied babblers, and tandem-running ants. In this review, our aim is to stimulate further research in different species and contexts by providing conceptual and methodological guidelines for identifying teaching, with a focus on natural populations. We begin by highlighting the fact that teaching is a form of cooperative behavior that functions to promote learning in others and show that consideration of these key characteristics is critical in helping to identify suitable targets for future research. We then go on to discuss potential observational, experimental, and statistical techniques that may assist researchers in providing evidence that the criteria that make up the accepted operational definition of teaching have been met. Supplemental materials for this article may be downloaded from http://lb.psychonomic-journals.org/content/supplemental.

We thank Tim Clutton-Brock and Marta Manser for advice and access to the study site in South Africa. Our work on teaching in meerkats and pied babblers would not have been possible without the collaboration of Katherine McAuliffe and Amanda Ridley. For financial support, we thank Pembroke College, Cambridge (A.T.) and the Zoological Society, London (N.J.R.). Bennett Galef and Rachel Kendal provided useful comments on the manuscript.