Chapter 6 Notes – cultural transmission
•Cultural transmission of behaviour—often defined as the transfer of information from individual to individual
through social learning or teaching—both within and between generations of animals
•Social learning is learning by watching others
•An example comes from a monkey named Imo, she started washing her sweet potatoes before eating, to wash off the
sand, and others around her learnt that too. Also when they were given wheat, to take the wheat out of the sand, she
would put it on water, the sand sunk but the wheat floated on top of water. These behaviours were culturally
•Another group of Japanese monkeys gathered rocks, and played with them. This behaviour also was culturally
transmitted and the frequency of the behaviour increase over time in the population.
•Adults actually played longer with the rocks in
each session, but younger ones had more
sessions and shorter time per session.
•Stone plays are also seen populations in which
food is readily provided and animals have free
time to play
•In chimps there are culturally transmitted traits,
but different traits are transferred in different
populations of chimps.
•Some of these traits arise from trial and error but
actually increase in populations
•These observational studies lack control groups
but are accurate enough to show that there is
cultural transmission in animals
What is cultural transmission?
•Cultural transmission is a system of information
transfer that affects an individual’s phenotype by
means of either teaching or some form of social
•Returning to our definition of what constitutes
cultural transmission, one aspect of a rat’s
phenotype—in this case, what sorts of food it
eats—is modified by information that it has
learned from other individuals.
•cultural transmission involves the spread of information from individual to individual
•Cultural transmission of information, on the other hand, operates much faster, and can cause important changes in the
behaviour seen in populations in just a few generations.
•Cultural transmission involves a “model” individual—sometimes called a demonstrator or tutor and an “observer,”—
who learns a specific behaviour or response from the model. But it is important to recognize that there are situations
that involve an interaction between observers and models, but that do not constitute social learning or teaching.
•In these cases—labelled local enhancement and social facilitation—the observer is drawn to an area by a model or by
the action of a model, or is simply in the presence of models, but the observer does not learn a particular behaviour or
response from the model, so cultural transmission is not occurring.
•Individuals learn from others, not so much by doing what they observe, as by being drawn to a particular area because
another individual—a model—was in that location.
•Once the observer is drawn to the area, the observer may learn on its own, that is, via individual learning.
•For example some birds are drawn to some areas that have a lot of food, by local enhancement. This helps foraging.
They don’t learn anything from the demonstrator except the place of food.
•During local enhancement, the action of a model draws attention to some aspect of the environment. But under social
facilitation, the mere presence of a model, regardless of what it does, is thought to facilitate learning on the part of an
•For example, there are many instances in the foraging literature in which increased group size caused increased
foraging rates per individual, perhaps because individuals had learned that the mere presence of others made them
To test the difference between social facilitation and local enhancement, they did an experiment with monkeys.
These researchers examined what factors affected a capuchin monkey’s probability of eating a novel food. In one treatment, a
lone capuchin was tested on its tendency to try a new food type (vegetables that had been color dyed). In a second treatment, a
capuchin and the novel food type were on one side of a test cage, and a group of capuchins was on the other side of the cage. No
food was placed on the side of the cage with the group. The third treatment was identical to the second, except that a familiar
food type was placed on the side of the cage with the group, which made it likely that they would eat the food. Now the lone
capuchin saw not only a group, but a group that was eating food, but not eating the novel food type. These treatments were
carefully designed to create potential for social facilitation (treatment 2: mere presence of others) and local enhancement
(treatment 3: presence of others that are eating). Treatment 1 served as the control condition. There was evidence of local
enhancement not social
•Social learning is sometimes referred to as “observational learning” in the psychology literature.
The bobo doll experiment
In Bandura’s classic bobo-the-clown doll experiments, the power
of social learning is frighteningly evident: Young children treated
the bobo doll, as well as other toys, as aggressively as the adult
There are two types of social
learning, copying and imitation.