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Monkey see, monkey do

Chimpanzees Can Transmit Cultural Behavior To Multiple ‘Generations’:

Transferring knowledge through a chain of generations is a behavior not exclusive to humans, according to new findings by researchers at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center of Emory University and the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. For the first time, researchers have shown chimpanzees exhibit generational learning behavior similar to that in humans. Unlike previous findings that indicated chimpanzees simply conform to the social norms of the group, this study shows behavior and traditions can be passed along a chain of individual chimpanzees. These findings, based upon behavioral data gathered at the Yerkes Field Station in Lawrenceville, Ga., will publish online in the August 28 early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


“The chimpanzees in this study continued using only the technique they observed rather than an alternative method,” said Horner. “This finding is particularly remarkable considering the chimpanzees in the control group were able to discover both methods through individual exploration. Clearly, observing one exclusive technique from a previous chimpanzee was sufficient for transmission of behavior along multiple cultural generations.”


  1. #1 Bill Hooker
    August 31, 2006


    You know, of course. And I know you know. And I know you used that title anyway just for the humor value. And yet, I cannot stop my fingers from typing–



  2. #2 coturnix
    August 31, 2006

    I was waiting to see who is going to be the first to point that out LOL

  3. #3 _Arthur
    August 31, 2006

    Off-topic, but I saw several documentaries, and live instances, of cats and other felines (Servals documentary by National Geographic) bringing live but crippled prey to the kittens, so they can lean to hunt by playing with the lamed mouse.

    Is that common behavior known to be learned, or is it a complex *instinctive* behavior ?

    One way to establish it would be to raise kits without allowing their mother to bring them live or dead prey, and then observe how they raise their own kits.
    There is also the possibility that adult cats observe other cats bringing live prey to their own kits, but, as I understand wild cats territory, it seems far-fetched.

    Is this behavior passed from mother to kit every generation without break for untold thousands of years ? It seems unplausible to me.

    Of course, cats that don’t teach their offspring how to hunt, will go extinct quite fast.

    I am puzzled how such complex behaviors could possibly be transmitted as instinct thru DNA alone ? Would it be a specific hormone compelling the mother to teach the kits ? Seen that way, the “learned behavior” seems much more likely.

  4. #4 coturnix
    August 31, 2006

    Man household cats don’t know how to hunt, though they try and they may learn to be decent hunters on their own, though it take smuch longer time than if they were taught by their mothers. They inherit the ability to learn (and teach) by genetically-guided brain development, and they inherit hunting skills by learning, i.e., via a non-genetic mode of inheritance.

  5. #5 _Arthur
    August 31, 2006

    So the teaching by bringing lamed prey to the kits could be, for the sake of argument, lost to some wild cats lineages (if the kits are orphaned, but learn to hunt by themselves and survive to adulthood), and possibly could be recovered within the lineage (mothers do bring dead prey to feed the kits when weaning them) by some form of accident, or cat wisdom/playfulness ?

  6. #6 coturnix
    August 31, 2006

    Dunno, perhaps teaching is instinctual. After all, mother brings in the prey no matter which way she caught it. The actual hunting may be a matter of learning the motivation (by playing with what mama brought home) and inventing the technique from scratch.

  7. #7 _Arthur
    September 1, 2006

    Adult felines also are known to play with crippled prey, so involving the kittens do not require extraordinary circumstances. Of course, mothering skills, teaching, learning, curiosity and playfulness are all traits thave have been reinforced by evolution.

  8. #8 nbm
    September 2, 2006

    Mom caught a mouse. Actually, Mom’s pot’o’jam caught the mouse, found “swimming” in the thick sweet stuff. Mom washed mouse under the tap and we put the scared little thing + the cat between the back door and the screen door to see what might happen. Uninterested cat turned ’round, backed up and sat on mouse!

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