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Chimpanzees have culture (or not) depending on your definition.Image: Irish Wildcat / Creative Commons Author’s Note: The following is an expansion on my reply to anthropologist Dan Sperber on the PLoS ONE article “Prestige Affects Cultural Learning in Chimpanzees.” Culture is like art or pornography, it’s hard for people to define but everyone knows it…

     New research finds chimpanzees follow  prestigious models when learning new tasks.        Monika Thorpe / Creative Commons If one were to play psychiatrist to the natural world, most human beings would be committed for our certifiable obsession with other peoples’ behavior. We compulsively examine, study, appraise, size up, and scope out what those around us are doing…

Author’s Note: This post was selected as the topic for the ResearchBlogCast as part of ResearchBlogging.org. Listen to the discussion here.    Could punishing bad behavior be the origin                  of human cooperation? Humans are one of the most cooperative species on the planet. Our ability to coordinate behavior and work collaboratively with others has allowed us…

A new study shows that chimps sacrifice their own advantage if they earned it unfairly.Image: Owen Booth / Creative Commons Fairness is the basis of the social contract. As citizens we expect that when we contribute our fair share we should receive our just reward. When social benefits are handed out unequally or when prior…

Cultural Transmission in Chimpanzees

Culture defines who we are but few can explain where it comes from or why we adopt one tradition over another. In the classic musical The Fiddler on the Roof the main character, Tevye, muses on this basic fact of human existence: Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything… how to eat, how to…

Helpful Cichlids in the Gladiator’s Show

Image: The Daffodil Cichlid of Lake Tanganyika / Koen Eeckhoudt In 1888 “Darwin’s Bulldog”, Thomas Henry Huxley, declared that nature was little more than a “gladiator’s show” whereby only “the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day.” Brutal competition was the only important factor in the natural world, in which a…

                 Coca-Cola sucks India dry.      Image: Carlos Latuff / Wikimedia CommonsThe marketing executive who came up with Coca-Cola’s popular slogan in 1908 most likely never expected it would be taken so literally. However, a hundred years ago there probably weren’t many who imagined a term like “water wars” could exist in a region that experiences annual monsoons.…

Darwin and Spencer in the Middle East

It is a common argument by those who are opposed to evolution’s implication for religious belief to label Darwin as a social Darwinist and a racist. Adrian Desmond and James Moore’s book Darwin’s Sacred Cause has gone a long way towards dispelling any claims that Darwin sought to justify black inferiority (in fact, as they…

Darwinius Is Not a Human Ancestor

      Artist rendering of Darwinius.        Image: Julius T. Csotonyi Last year’s publication of the fossil primate Darwinius masillae claimed it to be the oldest haplorhine primate ever discovered and a multimedia blitz campaign touted the find as the ultimate “missing link” (an erroneous term that should forthwith be forbidden to all science journalists). Brian Switek at Laelaps…

Research Blogging Award Finalists

The finalists have been chosen in the first annual Research Blogging Awards for material written about peer-reviewed literature. Some of my favorite bloggers have been selected including Neurophilosophy, Laelaps, Not Exactly Rocket Science, A Blog Around the Clock (BoraZ also has the best Twitterer category locked in), Skulls in the Stars, Observations of a Nerd,…