From Material to Symbolic Cultures: Culture in Primates

Christophe Boesch

in The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195396430
Published online November 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Library of Psychology

 From Material to Symbolic Cultures: Culture in Primates

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Recent wild animal studies have led to the realization that some of the population differences observed in some species possess close similarities to human cultures. This has inflamed a long-standing debate about the uniqueness of human cultural abilities. The accumulation of such detailed observations from wild animal populations has provided more and more convincing details about the cultural skills in different animal populations, which has resulted in a shift away from the question, “do animals possess culture?” to the question, “what differentiates humans’ cultural abilities from other animals’?” The growing body of evidence of cultural differences, not only in chimpanzees but also in macaques, capuchin monkeys, orangutans, and other primate species, opens the way to a precise ethnography of culture in different species. Chimpanzee culture is observed as well in the material domain as in the symbolic and social ones and is disseminating by social-learning mechanisms, allowing in some cases for cumulative cultural evolution. To further a precise understanding of the social-transmission mechanisms involved in cultural transmission combining detailed field observations with ecologically and socially valid experimental studies would be timely and welcome.

Keywords: culture; symbols; cooperation; cumulative cultural evolution; ecological validity; chimpanzees; humans; primates

Article.  10343 words. 

Subjects: Psychology ; Social Psychology

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