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  • Print publication year: 2019
  • Online publication date: August 2019

Chapter 2 - Affective social learning and the emotional side of cultural learning in primates

from Part I - On the evolutionary foundations of affective social learning processes


Emotions have often been considered negatively in the animal literature, offering so-called parsimonious explanations to uncontrolled animal behaviour. This has particularly been the case for primate vocalizations, as opposed to flexible human language and potential goal-directed primate gestures. We believe that affective social learning (ASL) can offer a useful way to analyse emotions through a different perspective, integrating emotions and learning to analyse primates’ and other animals’ behaviour. In this chapter, we review the primate literature for potential cases of ASL, re-analysing classic cases such as the vervet alarm call system as well as more recent discoveries related to emotional behaviour. To decipher whether ASL is cognitively possible for non-human primates, we dissect the cognitive requirements for each step of ASL: emotional contagion, affective observation, social referencing and natural pedagogy. Our review suggests that, despite the lack of evidence for the latter step, there is evidence for all other types of ASL in primates, particularly in the domains of the ontogeny of communicative and cultural learning. We conclude by highlighting that ASL may constitute a useful comparative framework to describe various types of teaching that do not necessitate the demanding requirement of full-blown human intentional teaching.