The evolution of animal ‘cultures’ and social intelligence

Decades-long field research has flowered into integrative studies that, together with experimental evidence for the requisite social learning capacities, have indicated a reliance on multiple traditions (‘cultures’) in a small number of species. It is increasingly evident that there is great variation in manifestations of social learning, tradition, and culture among species, offering much scope for evolutionary analysis. Social learning has been identified in a range of vertebrate and invertebrate species, yet sustained traditions appear rarer, and the multiple traditions we call cultures are rarer still. Here, we examine relationships between this variation and both social intelligence—sophisticated information processing adapted to the social domain—and encephalization. First, we consider whether culture offers one particular confirmation of the social (‘Machiavellian’) intelligence hypothesis that certain kinds of social life (here, culture) select for intelligence: ‘you need to be smart to sustain culture’. Phylogenetic comparisons, particularly focusing on our own study animals, the great apes, support this, but we also highlight some paradoxes in a broader taxonomic survey. Second, we use intraspecific variation to address the converse hypothesis that ‘culture makes you smart’, concluding that recent evidence for both chimpanzees and orang-utans support this proposition.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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