Andrew Whiten's research while affiliated with University of St Andrews and other places

Publications (313)

Article
The principal contrasts that Jagiello et al. highlight are among many cultural transmission biases we now know of. I suggest they are also reflected more widely in social learning decisions among nonhuman animal cultures governing whether cultural innovations spread, or are instead over-ridden by immigrants' conformity in their new group. Such conf...
Article
A mere few decades ago, culture was thought a unique human attribute. Evidence to the contrary accumulated through the latter part of the twentieth century and has exploded in the present one, demonstrating the transmission of traditions through social learning across all principal vertebrate taxa and even invertebrates, notably insects. The scope...
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The scale of cumulative cultural evolution (CCE) is a defining characteristic of humans. Despite marked scientific interest in CCE, the cognitive underpinnings supporting its development remain understudied. We examined the role cognitive flexibility plays in CCE by studying U.S. children’s (N = 167, 3–5-year-olds) propensity to relinquish an ineff...
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Anointing is a behaviour in which animals apply pungent-smelling materials over their bodies. It can be done individually or socially in contact with others. Social anointing can provide coverage of body parts inaccessible to the individual, consistent with hypotheses that propose medicinal benefits. However, in highly social capuchin monkeys, Sapa...
Article
Humans have adapted well to diverse environments in part because of their ability to efficiently acquire information from their social environment. However, we still know very little as to how young children acquire cultural knowledge and in particular the circumstances under which children prioritize social learning over asocial learning. In this...
Article
Social learning in non-human primates has been studied experimentally for over 120 years, yet until the present century this was limited to what one individual learns from a single other. Evidence of group-wide traditions in the wild then highlighted the collective context for social learning, and broader ‘diffusion experiments’ have since demonstr...
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Culture—the totality of traditions acquired in a community by social learning from other individuals—has increasingly been found to be pervasive not only in humans’ but in many other animals’ lives. Compared with learning on one’s own initiative, learning from others can be very much safer and more efficient, as the wisdom already accumulated by ot...
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A key goal of conservation is to protect biodiversity by supporting the long-term persistence of viable, natural populations of wild species. Conservation practice has long been guided by genetic, ecological and demographic indicators of risk. Emerging evidence of animal culture across diverse taxa and its role as a driver of evolutionary diversifi...
Article
We are not alone Before the mid-20th century, it was generally assumed that culture, behavior learned from others, was specific to humans. However, starting with identification in a few species, evidence that animals can learn and transmit behaviors has accumulated at an ever-increasing pace. Today, there is no doubt that culture is widespread amon...
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Behavioural flexibility is a critical ability allowing animals to respond to changes in their environment. Previous studies have found evidence of inflexibility when captive chimpanzees are faced with changing task parameters. We provided two groups of sanctuary-housed chimpanzees with a foraging task in which solutions were restricted over time. I...
Chapter
Since the proliferation of television sets into households began over half a century ago there has been widespread interest in the impact that viewing has on young children's development. Such interest has grown with the increasing availability of smart phones and tablets. In this review we examine the literature documenting human social learning a...
Article
Humans are distinctive in their dependence upon products of culture for survival, products that have evolved cumulatively over generations such that many cannot now be created by a single individual. Why the cultural capacity of humans appears unrivalled in the animal kingdom is a topic of ongoing debate. Here we explore whether innovation and/or s...
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New evidence that neighboring communities of bonobos hunt different prey species, despite extensive overlaps in where they live and hunt, is difficult to explain without invoking cultural factors.
Article
The authors do the field of cultural evolution a service by exploring the role of non-social cognition in human cumulative technological culture, truly neglected in comparison with socio-cognitive abilities frequently assumed to be the primary drivers. Some specifics of their delineation of the critical factors are problematic, however. I highlight...
Article
Discoveries about social learning and culture in non-human animals have burgeoned this century, yet despite aspiring to offer a unified account of culture, the target article neglects these discoveries almost totally. I offer an overview of principal findings in this field including phylogenetic reach, intraspecies pervasiveness, stability, fidelit...
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Culture (behaviour based on socially transmitted information) is present in diverse animal species, yet how it interacts with genetic evolution remains largely unexplored. Here, we review the evidence for gene–culture coevolution in animals, especially birds, cetaceans and primates. We describe how culture can relax or intensify selection under dif...
Article
In recent decades, a burgeoning literature has documented the cultural transmission of behavior through social learning in numerous vertebrate and invertebrate species. One meaning of “cultural evolution in animals” refers to these discoveries, and I present an overview of key findings. I then address the other meaning of the term focused on cultur...
Article
Heyes sets out an intriguing theory but it raises more questions than compelling answers concerning culturally shaped cognition. I set out what I see as the most pressing questions, ranging over the book's early chapters concerning the structure of the theory, to two of Heyes’ four exemplar cognitive domains, selective social learning and imitation...
Article
The cultural repertoires of apes have been charted by identifying cultural differences between populations. A new approach focused on great apes’ intense ‘peering’ during social learning suggests that they may possess many more cultural elements than currently thought.
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Understanding the rich social lives of animals benefits international conservation efforts
Article
After seeing an action sequence children and adults tend to copy causally relevant and, more strikingly, even perceivably unnecessary actions in relation to the given goal. This phenomenon, termed “over-imitation”, has inspired much empirical research in the past decade as well as lively theoretical debate on its cognitive underpinnings and putativ...
Article
The years since the publication of Machiavellian Intelligence have witnessed a golden age in discoveries concerning social cognition in human and nonhuman primates and many other animal taxa too. Here, I briefly dissect some of the variants of the social intelligence hypotheses that have evolved in this time and offer a selective overview of the sc...
Article
Social learning is common not only in humans but also in other primates. The ability to both innovate and socially learn can help a species adjust and survive in temporally and spatially changing environments, and the relative speed of social learning can offer individuals increased fitness benefits over and above genetically guided and individuall...
Article
The movements of relocated wild animals reveal that a lost migratory skill was regained over successive generations. This suggests that skill improvements can occur over time as animals learn expertise from each other. Migratory skills improve over time in relocated wild animals.
Chapter
Full-text available
Once thought to be a unique human trait, the presence of culture in non-human primates has been confirmed and studied by researchers for several decades. What has been discovered is evidence for between-group traditions in a wide range of primate taxa, including all of the great apes, macaques, capuchins and spider monkeys, as well as many non-prim...
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Culture has had immeasurable consequences for our species. Whether nonhuman animals display culture that is in some ways homologous to our own remains a contentious issue. This entry examines the extent to which animals meet a range of cultural criteria proposed in recent literature, from social learning, through multiple‐tradition repertoires, to...
Article
Social learning allows the spread of new knowledge and skills, and is the basis for traditions in a wide range of animal species. These traditions may, in turn, form the basis of culture. Although often used synonymously with social learning, imitation denotes a distinctive social learning mechanism, which many researchers hypothesize allows partic...
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Studies of transmission biases in social learning have greatly informed our understanding of how behaviour patterns may diffuse through animal populations, yet within-species inter-individual variation in social information use has received little attention and remains poorly understood. We have addressed this question by examining individual perfo...
Chapter
Observational and experimental comparisons between the processes underlying social learning and culture in human and nonhuman animals have greatly informed our understanding of the evolutionary roots of the cultural properties that we share. Such comparisons also serve to highlight the unique features of human cognition that contribute toward the d...
Article
Social learning in animals is now well documented, but few studies have determined the contexts shaping when social learning is deployed. Theoretical studies predict copying of conspecifics gaining higher payoffs [1-4], a bias demonstrated in primates only in captivity [5]. In the wild, research has shown selective attention toward the philopatric...
Article
Cumulative culture is rare, if not altogether absent in nonhuman species. At the foundation of cumulative learning is the ability to modify, relinquish, or build upon previous behaviors flexibly to make them more productive or efficient. Within the primate literature, a failure to optimize solutions in this way is often proposed to derive from low-...
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In recent decades, an accelerating research effort has exploited a substantial diversity of methodologies to garner mounting evidence for social learning and culture in many species of primate. As in humans, the evidence suggests that the juvenile phases of non-human primates’ lives represent a period of particular intensity in adaptive learning fr...
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How animal communities arrive at homogeneous behavioural preferences is a central question for studies of cultural evolution. Here, we investigated whether chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) would relinquish a pre-existing behaviour to adopt an alternative demonstrated by an overwhelming majority of group mates; in other words, whether chimpanzees behav...
Article
A new study shows both that socially well-connected lemurs are more likely to acquire new behavioral innovations, and that individuals displaying such useful new knowledge gain in status. Such positive feedback loops may help explain resilient cultural transmission in animals. A new study shows both that socially well-connected lemurs are more like...
Article
Whether intelligence is selected for in species that have a complex social life is debated and hard to test. Cognitive performance and associated reproductive success are now linked to group size in wild magpies.
Article
Directed social learning suggests that information flows through social groups in a nonrandom way, with individuals biased to obtain information from certain conspecifics. A bias to copy the behaviour of more dominant individuals has been demonstrated in captive chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, but has yet to be studied in any wild animal population....
Article
Over-imitation has become a well-documented phenomenon. However there is evidence that both social and visible, physically causal factors can influence the occurrence of over-imitation in children. Here we explore the interplay between these two factors, manipulating both task opacity and social information. Four- to 7-year-old children were given...
Article
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Behavioural flexibility, the ability to alter behaviour in response to environmental feedback, and to relinquish previously successful solutions to problems, is a crucial ability in allowing organisms to adapt to novel environments and environmental change; it is essential to cumulative cultural change. To explore this ability in chimpanzees, 18 in...
Article
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The experimental study of cumulative culture and the innovations essential to it is a young science, with child studies so rare that the scope of cumulative cultural capacities in childhood remains largely unknown. Here we report a new experimental approach to the inherent complexity of these phenomena. Groups of 3–4-year-old children were presente...
Chapter
Once a controversial subject, it is now broadly accepted that many nonhuman animals display culture, sometimes entailing significant complexity. This can involve substantial within-species and between-group variation in behavior as a result of social learning. Behavior transmitted in this way is taxonomically widespread and involves variation acros...
Article
By the mid-twentieth century (thus following the 'Modern Synthesis' in evolutionary biology), the behavioural sciences offered only the sketchy beginnings of a scientific literature documenting evidence for cultural inheritance in animals-the transmission of traditional behaviours via learning from others (social learning). By contrast, recent deca...
Article
The cultural intelligence hypothesis is an exciting new development. The hypothesis that it encourages general intelligence is intriguing, but it presents a paradox insofar as social learning is often suggested to instead reduce reliance on individual cognition and exploration. There is thus a need to specify more clearly the contexts in which cult...
Article
Controlled laboratory experiments have delivered extensive and compelling evidence for the diffusion and maintenance of socially learned behavior in primates and other animals. Such evidence is rarer in the wild, but we show that a behavior seeded in a majority of individuals within vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythus) groups may be sustained acr...
Article
Discoveries about the cultures and cultural capacities of the great apes have played a leading role in the recognition emerging in recent decades that cultural inheritance can be a significant factor in the lives not only of humans but also of nonhuman animals. This prominence derives in part from these primates being those with whom we share the m...
Article
Animal social learning is typically studied experimentally by the presentation of artificial foraging tasks. Although productive, results are often variable even for the same species. We present and test the hypothesis that one cause of variation is that spatial distance between rewards and the means of reward release causes conflicts for participa...
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Cumulative culture underpins humanity's enormous success as a species. Claims that other animals are incapable of cultural ratcheting are prevalent, but are founded on just a handful of empirical studies. Whether cumulative culture is unique to humans thus remains a controversial and understudied question that has far-reaching implications for our...
Chapter
Social traditions, here defined as displaying intergroup behavioural differences acquired through social learning, have been identified in a number of primate species. This entry reviews research methods used in the wild and in captivity to identify the presence of both primate social traditions and the necessary social learning mechanisms involved...
Chapter
Imitation is a process in which one individual copies the actions of others. It is widely perceived as the most cognitively elaborate form of social learning, allowing faster and more efficient acquisition of adaptive behavior than through personal learning experiences. With sufficient fidelity of copying it plays a key role in the transmission of...
Article
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Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) demonstrate much cultural diversity in the wild, yet a majority of novel behaviors do not become group-wide traditions. Since many such novel behaviors are introduced by low-ranking individuals, a bias toward copying dominant individuals (“rank-bias”) has been proposed as an explanation for their limited diffusion. Pre...
Article
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Conformity to the behavioural preferences of others can have powerful effects on intragroup behavioural homogeneity in humans, but evidence in animals remains minimal. In this study, we took advantage of circumstances in which individuals or pairs of captive chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, were ‘migrated’ between groups, to investigate whether immigr...
Article
The comparative and evolutionary analysis of social learning and all manner of cultural processes has become a flourishing field. Applying the ‘comparative method’ to such phenomena allows us to exploit the good fortunate we have in being able to study them in satisfying detail in our living primate relatives, using the results to reconstruct the c...
Article
A few decades ago, we knew next to nothing about the behavior of our closest animal relative, the chimpanzee, but long-term field studies have since revealed an undreamed-of richness in the diversity of their cultural traditions across Africa. These discoveries have been complemented by a substantial suite of experimental studies, now bridging to t...
Article
This study tested the prediction that, with age, children should rely less on familiarity and more on expertise in their selective social learning. Experiment 1 (N = 50) found that 5- to 6-year-olds copied the technique their mother used to extract a prize from a novel puzzle box, in preference to both a stranger and an established expert. This bia...
Article
Noting important recent discoveries, we review primate social learning, traditions and culture, together with associated findings about primate brains. We survey our current knowledge of primate cultures in the wild, and complementary experimental diffusion studies testing species’ capacity to sustain traditions. We relate this work to theories tha...
Article
Comparative and evolutionary developmental analyses seek to discover the similarities and differences between humans and non-human species that might illuminate both the evolutionary foundations of our nature that we share with other animals, and the distinctive characteristics that make human development unique. As our closest animal relatives, wi...
Article
Full-text available
A vital prerequisite for cumulative culture, a phenomenon often asserted to be unique to humans, is the ability to modify behaviour and flexibly switch to more productive or efficient alternatives. Here, we first established an inefficient solution to a foraging task in five captive chimpanzee groups (N = 19). Three groups subsequently witnessed a...
Article
Figure 2. Illustrative photographs of what other monkeys in the group could witness of group members choosing to eat pink (Noha group) or blue corn (Baie Dankie group) as the preferred colour when both colours were equally palatable.
Article
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This study examined whether instrumental and normative learning contexts differentially influence 4- to 7-year-old children’s social learning strategies; specifically, their dispositions to copy an expert versus a majority consensus. Experiment 1 (N = 44) established that children copied a relatively competent “expert” individual over an incompeten...
Data
Experimental script, Experiment 1: Establishing competency in normative/instrumental conditions. (PDF)
Data
Number of children and their explanations for their chosen method in Experiment 2. (PDF)
Data
Experimental script, Experiment 2: Do children trust a competent individual or a consensus under normative/instrumental conditions? (PDF)
Article
Full-text available
The current study avoided the typical laboratory context to determine instead whether over-imitation-the disposition to copy even visibly, causally unnecessary actions-occurs in a real-world context in which participants are unaware of being in an experiment. We disguised a puzzle-box task as an interactive item available to the public within a sci...
Data
DataFile. Data set that includes the over-imitation scores of both the child and adult participants. (SAV)
Article
Full-text available
Theoretical models of social learning predict that individuals can benefit from using strategies that specify when and whom to copy. Here the interaction of two social learning strategies, model age-based biased copying and copy when uncertain, was investigated. Uncertainty was created via a systematic manipulation of demonstration efficacy (comple...
Article
This study explored how overimitation and collaboration interact in 3- to 6-year-old children in Westernized (N = 48 in Experiment 1; N = 26 in Experiment 2) and Indigenous Australian communities (N = 26 in Experiment 2). Whether working in pairs or on their own rates of overimitation did not differ. However, when the causal functions of modeled ac...
Preprint
Full-text available
Evidence for culture in non-human species continues to grow, yet there are few candidate examples of cumulative culture outside of humans’ distinctively complex achievements. Prerequisites for cumulative culture include not only the ability to build on established behaviors but also to relinquish old ones and flexibly switch to more productive or e...
Preprint
Full-text available
Evidence for culture in non-human species continues to grow, yet there are few candidate examples of cumulative culture outside of humans’ distinctively complex achievements. Prerequisites for cumulative culture include not only the ability to build on established behaviors but also to relinquish old ones and flexibly switch to more productive or e...