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On the Origin of Cumulative Culture: Consideration of the Role of Copying in Culture-Dependent Traits and a Reappraisal of the Zone of Latent Solutions Hypothesis

On the Origin of Cumulative Culture: Consideration of the Role of Copying in Culture-Dependent Traits and a Reappraisal of the Zone of Latent Solutions Hypothesis

Chapter:
(p.428) 19 On the Origin of Cumulative Culture: Consideration of the Role of Copying in Culture-Dependent Traits and a Reappraisal of the Zone of Latent Solutions Hypothesis
Source:
Chimpanzees in Context
Author(s):
Claudio TennieLydia M. HopperCarel P. Van Schaik
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226728032.003.0019

An understanding of ape culture offers important insights into the evolution of human culture. This chapter presents the argument that ape tool cultures consist of socially-mediated branching chains of individually-derived behaviors (‘latent solutions’) and presents the hypothesis that the evolved motivations and skills of apes potentially enable them to individually create all tool behaviors shown by any other conspecific. Through non-copying observational learning mechanisms, each individual becomes sufficiently likely to express the latent solution variants shown in their group. But even with social mediation, each chimpanzee still must generate the underlying behavior individually (i.e. reinnovate it). Ultimately, reinnovation arises due to an interplay between environmental factors, motivation and skill. While the resulting uniformity of behavior within chimpanzee groups can create the illusion that their culture requires copying, we review the evidence and conclude this is not the case. Furthermore, latent solutions are not limited to chimpanzees – they may underlie the cultures of many other animals, and presumably those of earlier hominins. While our own species also possesses a ‘zone of latent solutions,’ the additional behaviors and technology that we use and produce today cannot occur unless they are culturally transmitted: they are not only cumulative, but truly culture-dependent traits.

Keywords:   culture, tool use, zone of latent solutions, culture-dependent traits, social learning, observational learning, copying, cumulative culture, chimpanzee, great apes

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