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The question of animal culture

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Abstract

In this paper I consider whether traditional behaviors of animals, like traditions of humans, are transmitted by imitation learning. Review of the literature on problem solving by captive primates, and detailed consideration of two widely cited instances of purported learning by imitation and of culture in free-living primates (sweet-potato washing by Japanese macaques and termite fishing by chimpanzees), suggests that nonhuman primates do not learn to solve problems by imitation. It may, therefore, be misleading to treat animal traditions and human culture as homologous (rather than analogous) and to refer to animal traditions as cultural.

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Preparation of this manuscript was greatly facilitated by funds from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the McMaster University Research Board.

Dr. Galef is Professor of Psychology and Associate Member of the Department of Biology at McMaster University. Since receiving his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968, Dr. Galef’s research and scholarly activities have been focused on studies of social learning and tradition in animals.

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Galef, B.G. The question of animal culture. Human Nature 3, 157–178 (1992). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02692251

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