Social Learning in Animals: The Roots of Culture

By Cecilia M. Heyes; Bennett G. Galef Jr. | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Social Learning in Monkeys: Primate "Primacy" Reconsidered
DOROTHY M. FRAGASZY ELISABETTA VISALBERGHI
Department of PsychologyIstituto di Psicologia
University of GeorgiaConsiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche
Athens, Georgia30602 Rome, Italy

INTRODUCTION

T he recognition that humans share many traits with other primates can have as an unintended correlate an uncritical willingness to ascribe human traits to other primate species (Kennedy, 1992). Behavioral researchers are more likely to provide higher-order "cognitive" explanations for behaviors in primates than members of other orders, perhaps reflecting some intuitive notion that cognitive continuity extends from humans to other primates, but not to other orders. These two tendencies are as misleading for primatologists as they are for the general public (Visalberghi & Fragaszy, 1990); and they extend to our views of social learning. They are apparent, for example, in the cognitive slant to explanations for behaviors in nonhuman primates (such as dietary choices or skilled foraging actions) that we assume are either learned socially, or are socially modulated in humans. In this chapter, we make the case that the apparently natural inclination to attribute a special character to social learning in monkeys, relative to social learning in other animals, is unwarranted. This is not to say that social influences are not important to primates, as to other orders. Rather, the comparative psychological issue is whether a different set of underlying mechanisms supports social learning in primates than in other orders.

We draw on some recent research in our laboratories to illustrate how homo

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