Do chimpanzees have culture? It may depend on your definition of that slippery concept, but a new study using juice and soft straws shows that chimpanzees fill a basic requirement: They can learn new behaviors from one another.
Many researchers argue that few species, and perhaps none besides our own, have the capacity for culture – learned behaviors to spread across a population and down through future generations. (For humans, the definition would include things like beliefs, aesthetics, moral codes and knowledge, but given that chimpanzees lack language and can’t be asked about subjective thoughts, observable behaviors will have to do.)
Previous research had shown that wild chimps in separate communities would use sticks in different ways to fish for ants, a sign that such behaviors went beyond instinct. The new paper, published online Wednesday in the journal PLoS ONE, actually catches captive chimps in the act of learning such different tool uses.
The study presents "the first experimental evidence for chimpanzees' social transmission of a more efficient tool-use technique invented by a conspecific group member," according to the authors.