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

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