Experimental studies of behavioural flexibility and cultural transmission in chimpanzees and children
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In this thesis, I explore two subjects of importance to the study of cultural evolution and cumulative culture; behavioural flexibility in chimpanzees, and social transmission in human children. In Chapter 1, I give an overview of current literature on the cognitive requirements of cumulative culture, with a focus on behavioural flexibility as a capacity which facilitates cumulative culture. I also explore a current discussion in the field of cultural evolution; namely the debate between “standard” and cultural attraction-based approaches to the study of cultural evolution. Chapter 2 is an experimental investigation of the capacity of chimpanzees to respond flexibly to a changing foraging task. This study found that chimpanzees did alter their behaviour, but to a limited degree. In Chapter 3 I provide the same artificial foraging task to two further groups of chimpanzees, at a sanctuary in Zambia. This study again found that chimpanzees altered their behaviour in response to task constraints, but also found a significant difference in performance between the two groups tested. Chapter 4 explores one potential factor which may contribute to these group differences; social tolerance. Data on social tolerance from all three groups of chimpanzees is presented. In Chapter 5, I turn to another key factor in the study of culture and also address the cultural attraction approach, by conducting a transmission chain study of four- to eight-year-old human children, comparing the transmission of a symbolic and non-symbolic image. I found that neither image was reliably transmitted along transmission chains. Finally, in Chapter 6, I discuss the findings of the thesis, and suggest that future work considers multiple demographic groups, whether this means the inclusion of multiple groups of apes in studies of non-human primate cognition, or the consideration of how cultural behaviours might be transformed when transmitted by human children rather than adults.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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