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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: October 2009

10 - Biological and ecological foundations of primate behavioral tradition



An interest in nonhuman primate behavioral traditions has existed since the beginning of primatology, with some of the earliest details coming from the Japanese macaque (Macaca fuscata). When Kyoto University researchers began their investigations in 1948, under the leadership of Denzaburo Miyadi and Kinji Imanishi (Asquith, 1991), animals were considered to act on instinct and such concepts as tradition or culture were considered to be a uniquely human trait (de Waal, 2001; Kroeber and Kluckhohn, 1952). Imanishi (1952) predicted the presence of “culture” in animals even before the results of these observations had begun to be published. He emphasized that, unlike instinct, culture in animals should be viewed as the expression of developmentally labile behaviors. He reasoned that, if one defines culture as behavior transmitted to offspring from parents, differences in the way of life of members of the same species, whether they are human, monkey, or wasp, belonging to different social groups could be attributed to culture. Imanishi's general argument still holds today, albeit with greater refinements in our overall view of the phenomenon (e.g., Avital and Jablonka, 2000; de Waal, 2001; McGrew, 2001). Currently, healthy debate over whether culture or tradition in humans and animals is really the same is ongoing (e.g., Boesch and Tomasello, 1998; Galef, 1992; Tuttle, 2001; see also Ch. 6).

We use the term behavioral tradition in this chapter to denote those behaviors for which social context contributes to their acquisition by new practitioners and which are maintained within a population through social means (as defined by Fragaszy and Perry in Ch. 1; McGrew, 2001).

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