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Old Sunday, June 26, 2011
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Default Animal Culture! Reality or Myth?

Animal Culture

Dugatkin, a professor of behavioral ecology at the University of Louisville, and de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, provide powerful evidence for the existence of culture and cultural transmission in animals. Some of the evidence stems from their own research, but they also include the major findings by others in their field over the past 40 years.

Animal culture describes the current theory of cultural learning in non-human animals through socially transmitted behaviors. The question as to the existence of culture in non-human societies has been a contentious subject for decades, much due to the inexistence of a concise definition for culture. However, many leading scientists agree on culture being defined as a process, rather than an end product. This process, most agree, involves the social transmittance of a novel behavior, both among peers and between generations. This behavior is shared by a group of animals, but not necessarily between separate groups of the same species.
The notion of culture in animals dates back to Aristotle and Darwin, but the association of animals' actions with the actual word "culture" first was brought forward with Japanese primatologists' discoveries of socially-transmitted food behaviors in the 1940s.

According to the Webster's dictionary definition of culture, learning and transmission are the two main components of culture, specifically referencing tool making and the ability to acquire behaviors that will enhance one's quality of life. Using this definition it is possible to conclude that animals are just as likely to adapt to cultural behaviors as humans. One of the first signs of culture in early humans was the utilization of tools. Chimpanzees have been observed using tools such as rocks and sticks to obtain better access to food. There are other learned activities that have been exhibited by animals as well. Some examples of these activities that have been shown by varied animals are opening oysters, swimming, washing of food, and unsealing tin lids. This acquisition and sharing of behaviors correlates directly to the existence of memes. It especially reinforces the natural selection component, seeing as these actions employed by animals are all mechanisms for making their lives easier, and therefore longer.

Though the idea of 'culture' in animals has only been around for just over half of a century, scientists have been noting social behaviors of animals for centuries. Aristotle was the first to provide evidence of social learning in the songs of birds. Charles Darwin first attempted to find the existence of imitation in animals when attempting to prove his theory that the human mind had evolved from that of lower beings. Darwin was also the first to suggest what became known as social learning in attempting to explain the transmission of an adaptive pattern of behavior through a population of honey bees.

Cultural Transmission in Animals

Culture, when defined as the transmission of behaviors from one generation to the next, can be transmitted among animals through various methods. The most common of these methods include imitation, teaching, and language. Imitation has been found to be one of the most prevalent modes of cultural transmission in non-human animals, while teaching and language are much less widespread, with the possible exceptions of primates and cetaceans. Recent research has suggested that teaching, as opposed to imitation, may be a characteristic of certain animals who have more advanced cultural capacities, though this is debatable.

The Ape and Sushi Master (Basic Books) by Frans de Waal.
The Imitation Factor (Free Press) by Lee Dugatkin, support the pro-animal-culture side of the debate.

HowStuffWorks "Animal Culture" - Culture's not only human
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Old Saturday, August 06, 2011
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Thank you very much sir! You gave an important piece of information regarding this myth.I have never heard about this before.
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