Thursday 9 November 2006

Questioning Animal Conventions in the Lab

While social psychologists are lamenting Homo Sapiens' conformist biases (see Nicolas' post), primatologists are on a quest to prove that chimps can be as stupidly sheepish as we are - what we despise in humans we praise in chimps as a token of "imitation", which, among primatologists, is roughly synonymous with culture, hence with everything fine and elegant. I would like to point out several inconsistencies in the concept of socially-learned convention, as it is used nowadays, for example in this recent paper by Kristin Bonnie, Victoria Horner, Andrew Whiten, and Frans de Waal.

Horner's panopticon: the experimental apparatus of the study.


Saturday 23 September 2006

Translocating/Relocating Animal Cultures

(excuse my title ; I read too much Latour this week) Kevin "Niche-Construction" Laland and Vincent M Janik reexamine the case for animal cultures in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. They cast doubt on the relevance of an anthropology-based approach to animal "traditions" and they put forward a new method.


Tuesday 5 September 2006

Baby monkeys make faces

The AlphaPsy 2006 'Cutest Science Paper Award' goes to the description of facial Imitation in newborn Rhesus Macaques, by the Parma research group.


Friday 1 September 2006

6 chimps play chinese whispers

In a paper published online in PNAS (early edition), Horner, Whiten, Flynn and De Waal report how chimpanzees faithfully transmit new skills to their peers, who transmit them to others, and so on. A particular gesture can be preserved for 6 cultural "generations".


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