Chimps Spontaneously Develop and Pass Down Culture

Researchers stationed at a Zambian animal sanctuary were amused when they observed a female chimpanzee named Julie stick a piece of grass in her ear.

What's the Latest?


Researchers stationed at a Zambian animal sanctuary were amused when they observed a female chimpanzee named Julie stick a piece of grass in her ear. When this behavior was modeled by other chimps, researchers became astounded at what amounted to evidence in favor of a spontaneous chimpanzee culture. Sticking grass in one's ear may pale in comparison to the creation of complex religious rites (or not, depending on one's view of religion), but scientists say the biological impulse is one in the same. "This reflects chimpanzees' proclivity to actively investigate and learn from group members' behaviors in order to obtain relevant information," said lead researcher Edwin van Leeuwen.

What's the Big Idea?

What was most interesting to researchers is that the behavior persisted among the chimps even after Julie's death. This suggests the tendency to not only develop a culture modeled on the behavior of others but to pass it on after the originator of the behavior is irrelevant to the society. "The fact that these behaviours can be arbitrary and outlast the originator speaks to the cultural potential of chimpanzees," said van Leeuwen. The researchers suggest that an advantage is gained by the individual who maintains social customs and that this explains the chimps' behavior. 

Read more at the Telegraph

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • There are 2 different approaches to governing free speech on college campuses.
  • One is a morality/order approach. The other is a bottom-up approach.
  • Emily Chamlee-Wright says there are many benefits to having no one central authority on what is appropriate speech.

USA ranked 27th in the world in education and healthcare—down from 6th in 1990

America continues to tread water in healthcare and education while other countries have enacted reforms to great effect.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • The American healthcare and education systems are known to need some work, but a new study suggests we've fallen far in comparison to the rest of the world.
  • The findings show what progress, if any, 195 countries have made over the last twenty years
  • The study suggests that economic growth is tied to human capital, which gives a dire view of America's economic prospects.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett breaks down what qualities will inspire others to believe in you.
  • Here's how 300 leaders and 4,000 mid-level managers described someone with executive presence.
  • Get more deep insights like these to power your career forward. Join Big Think Edge.