Humans and baboons share cumulative culture ability

November 6, 2014, CNRS
Baboon using a touch screen. Credit: Nicolas Claidière

The ability to build up knowledge over generations, called cumulative culture, has given mankind language and technology. While it was thought to be limited to humans until now, researchers from the Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive (CNRS/AMU), working in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Edinburgh (UK), have recently found that baboons are also capable of cumulative culture. Their findings are published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on 5 November 2014.

Humankind is capable of great accomplishments, such as sending probes into space and eradicating diseases; these achievements have been made possible because humans learn from their elders and enrich this knowledge over . It was previously thought that this cumulative aspect of culture—whereby small changes build up, are transmitted, used and enriched by others—was limited to humans, but it has now been observed in another primate, the baboon.

While it is clear that monkeys like chimpanzees learn many things from their peers, each individual seems to start learning from scratch. In contrast, humans use techniques that evolve and improve from one generation to the next, and also differ from one population to another. The origin of cumulative culture in humans has therefore remained a mystery to scientists, who are trying to identify the necessary conditions for this cultural accumulation.

Nicolas Claidière and Joël Fagot, of the Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive, conducted the present study at the CNRS Primatology Center in Rousset, southeastern France. Baboons live in groups there and have free access to an area with touch screens where they can play a "memory game" specifically designed for the study. The screen briefly displays a grid of 16 squares, four of which are red and the others white. This image is then replaced by a similar grid, but composed of only white squares, and the must touch the four squares that were previously red. Phase one of the experiment started with a task-learning period in which the position of the four red squares was randomized. Phase two comprised a kind of visual form of "Chinese whispers" wherein information was transmitted from one individual to another. In this second phase, a baboon's response (the squares touched on the screen) was used to generate the next that the following baboon had to memorize and reproduce, and so on for 12 "generations."

Baboon against a background of tetrominos. Credit: Nicolas Claidière and Simon Kirby

The researchers, in collaboration with Simon Kirby and Kenny Smith from the University of Edinburgh, noted that baboons performed better in the phase involving a transmission chain (compared with random testing, which continued throughout the period of the experiment): success rate increased from 80% to over 95%. Due to errors by the baboons, the patterns evolved between the beginning and the end of each chain. Yet to the surprise of researchers, the random computer-generated patterns were gradually replaced by "tetrominos" (Tetris®-like shapes composed of four adjacent squares), even though these forms represent only 6.2% of possible configurations! An even more surprising result was that the baboons' performance on these rare shapes was poor during random testing, but increased throughout the transmission chain, during which the tetrominos accumulated. Moreover, when the experiment was replicated several times, the starting patterns did not lead to the same set of tetrominos. This study shows that, like humans, baboons have the ability to transmit and accumulate changes over "cultural generations" and that these incremental changes, which may differ depending on the chain, become structured and more efficient.

Researchers have ensured that all the necessary conditions were present to observe a type of cumulative cultural evolution in non- primates, with its three characteristic properties (progressive increase in performance, emergence of systematic structures, and lineage specificity). These results show that cumulative culture does not require specifically human capacities, such as language. So why have no examples of this type of cultural evolution been clearly identified in the wild? Perhaps because the utilitarian dimension of non-human primate culture (e.g., the development of tools) hinders such evolution.

Explore further: Monkeys also reason through analogy

More information: "Cultural evolution of systematically structured behaviour in a non-human primate," N. Claidière, K. Smith, S. Kirby, J. Fagot. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 5 November 2014. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1541

Related Stories

Monkeys also reason through analogy

September 26, 2011

Recognizing relations between relations is what analogy is all about. What lies behind this ability? Is it uniquely human? A study carried out by Joël Fagot of the Laboratoire de Psychologie Cognitive (France) and Roger ...

See Dan read: Baboons can learn to spot real words

April 12, 2012

Dan the baboon sits in front of a computer screen. The letters BRRU pop up. With a quick and almost dismissive tap, the monkey signals it's not a word. Correct. Next comes, ITCS. Again, not a word. Finally KITE comes up.

Monkeys might be more logical than we think

June 2, 2011

You see a big cat nursing a kitten, and you assume Cat A is Cat B’s mother. Then you see a bird dropping worms in a smaller bird’s mouth. Different content, different context, but same relationship—you conclude ...

Recommended for you

World's first known manta ray nursery discovered

June 19, 2018

A graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego and colleagues from NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries have discovered the world's first known manta ray nursery.

Scientists see human immune response in the fruit fly

June 19, 2018

Washington State University researchers have seen how both humans and fruit flies deploy a protein that a plays a critical role in their immune responses to invading bacteria. The discovery gives scientists evolutionary insight ...

Road rules for gene transfer are written in DNA

June 19, 2018

A new discovery suggests that bacteria's ability to transfer genes, like those associated with antibiotic resistance, are governed by a previously unknown set of rules that are written in the DNA of the recipient.

9 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

RhoidSlayer
not rated yet Nov 06, 2014
"So why have no examples of this type of cultural evolution been clearly identified in the wild? Perhaps because the utilitarian dimension of non-human primate culture hinders such evolution."

... to dream of things that never were and say, why not. Robert Kennedy
RhoidSlayer
not rated yet Nov 06, 2014
I mis attributed Robert Kennedy quoting George Bernard Shaw
RobertKarlStonjek
5 / 5 (1) Nov 06, 2014
Culture is not just shared knowledge. If language was simply shared knowledge then chimps with whom we share language knowledge would develop language of their own, but they don't.

Nim Chimpsky managed to teach a couple of signs to his cage mate in his retirement, but they only signalled keepers and not each other with these signs (for food).

Although an essential component, culture requires more than knowledge transmission. It requires specific cognitive mechanisms not present in other primates: a specific kind of abstract thinking whereby the culture is incorporated into the animal's world view in such a way that they would be incomplete without it. A few feeding tips does not qualify for that.
brahmix
not rated yet Nov 07, 2014
@RobertKarlStonjek - well said!
JVK
1 / 5 (4) Nov 07, 2014
Excerpt: "While it is clear that monkeys like chimpanzees learn many things from their peers, each individual seems to start learning from scratch. In contrast, humans use techniques that evolve..."

My comment: How do techniques evolve? All experimental evidence that links physics, chemistry and molecular biology shows that biodiversity varies with ecological variation and ecological adaptation. Are they mistaking adaptations for evolution, or have they not developed the intelligent use of language?

The Architecture of a Scrambled Genome Reveals Massive Levels of Genomic Rearrangement during Development http://www.scienc...14009842

Attributing cause and effect in the article above to evolution exemplifies more ignorance than should be publicly displayed. Clearly, something has gone wrong with the FoxP2 gene of evolutionary theorists who cannot speak in terms of biologically-based cause and effect.
Anda
not rated yet Nov 09, 2014
"While it was thought to be limited to humans until now"

False. That has been seen in chimps for a while. And has been published on this website at least twice. Just saying...
RhoidSlayer
not rated yet Nov 09, 2014
"Culture is not just shared knowledge. If language was simply shared knowledge then chimps with whom we share language knowledge would develop language of their own, but they don't"

its not 'just' the data structure

ROI . like any computer , the more horsepower the more intractable the problems you can attempt .
church-turing , chomskys hierarchy , and godel , essentially bound which problems and the class of architecture required .
culture ranges from state machine to np-hard .

by analogy , how much culture would exist if only einsteins & hawkings and godels & turings were as smart as three year old children , and to be so took twice or three times the effort of a human child due a more primitive cortical column architecture.

game theorem : if culture wasn't the easiest way to get laid , we'd still be living in caves
RhoidSlayer
not rated yet Nov 09, 2014
edit: culture ranges from state machine to np-hard and impossible dreams.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2014
Are they mistaking adaptations for evolution
Nope
it is actually funny comming from you! you cannot even comprehend the definition of mutation and how your own model causes mutations but now you want to play semantics with more science? ROTFLMFAO
My comment:
you really should sit this out jk
you also commented and lied about mutations (actually you STILL regularly lie about them)! remember.. I asked
DOES your model make any changes to the nucleotide sequence of the genome of an organism, virus, or extrachromosomal genetic element?
This is a yes or no answer
(this is the DEFINITION of mutation) to which you answered
YES!
--Thanks for asking
so trying to play those games here is not going to work

when you cannot comprehend your own lexicon, attempting to step into another field without referencing the terms used is stupid
especially
ESPECIALLY because you regularly fail with regard to your own "chosen" field and make up definitions to suit yourself

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.