Understanding behavioral traditions in primates: Are current experimental approaches too focused on food?



Watson CFI & Caldwell CA (2009) Understanding behavioral traditions in primates: Are current experimental approaches too focused on food?. International Journal of Primatology, 30 (1), pp. 143-167.

Recently, several researchers have highlighted the neglect of social behaviors relative to food-related behaviors in experimental research on social learning in primates, despite the significant number of apparent social traditions reported in the field. Here we aim to highlight the discrepancy between the relative number of nonfood-related behavioral traditions reported in the wild and foodrelated ones, and the almost exclusive investigation of food-related behaviors in an experimental context. First we discuss aspects of social and communicative customs that make them especially interesting. Then we consider reasons why experimental approaches are crucial to developing a full understanding of behavioral traditions observed in the wild. We report the results of a systematic literature survey in which we assessed the perceived discrepancy quantitatively. We also argue that the existing experimental literature, with its typical reliance on food as a motivator, may not be sufficient to elucidate the mechanisms underlying nonfood traditions, such as social conventions. Finally, we suggest new directions for the experimental investigation of social learning in primates, hoping to stimulate experimental research investigating social and communicative behavioral traditions.

culture; primate; social conventions; social learning; tradition; Primates Behavior; Behavior, Animal; Social behavior in animals

International Journal of Primatology: Volume 30, Issue 1

Publication date28/02/2009
Publication date online23/01/2009
Date accepted by journal19/07/2008

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Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor Christine Anna Caldwell

Professor & Deputy Dean of Faculty, Psychology