observational learning in orangutan cultural transmission chains
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Observational Learning in Orangutan Cultural Transmission Chains. Marietta Dindo, Tara Stoinski, and Andrew Whiten. A Presentation by Madeline Mow and Briana Schmidt. Understanding Culture across Species.

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observational learning in orangutan cultural transmission chains

Observational Learning in Orangutan Cultural Transmission Chains

Marietta Dindo, Tara Stoinski, and Andrew Whiten

A Presentation by Madeline Mow and Briana Schmidt

understanding culture across species
Understanding Culture across Species
  • The Oxford English Dictionary summarizes “culture” to mean the “distinctive ideas, customs, social behavior, products, or way of life of a particular society, people, or period.”
  • With growing evidence for unique cultural traditions in other species, the exact definition of “culture” has been the topic of recent debate.
  • A range of definitions are currently in use to describe a wide variety of aspects relating to culture in non-human animals.
why orangutans
Why Orangutans?
  • Orangutans have social, yet solitary behavior.
    • There aren’t that many opportunities to learn from others.
  • Cultural transmission has been seen more prevalently in a mother-infant context.
  • There’s not much experimental evidence in the wild.
subjects
Subjects
  • Seven males and four females from Zoo Atlanta were used.
  • Two of the males (Allen and Chantek) were trained as models.
  • The orangutans ranged from 2 to 38 years old.
apparatus and procedure
Apparatus and Procedure
  • The model was trained to open the box by sliding or lifting.
    • 10 trial sessions.
  • The model demonstrated the method in front of an observer.
    • 20 trial sessions.
  • The observer moved to another cage for the test session.
    • 20 trial sessions.
  • The test session was terminated if nothing happened after 15 min.
  • After the test session, the subject became the model for the next group member.

Orangutan Copy Cats

slide7
Lift
  • In the lift chain, the subjects were not all from the same social group.
    • The researchers used videotaped demonstrations for observation sessions.
slide
Slide
  • The third observer was dominant over the demonstrator.
    • There was a mesh barrier between the two for the first 10 trials.
  • The last subject did not try to open the box for 15 minutes, so the trial was terminated.
results
Results
  • In the lift group, all subjects successfully lifted the door 20/20 trials.
  • In the slide group, only half of the subjects slid the door open 20/20 trials.
    • The third subject only completed 19/20 trials correctly.
    • The fourth subject did not complete his trials with either method.
discussion
Discussion
  • Results confirm orangutans are capable of learning novel foraging behaviors by observing the actions of others.
    • The experiment also shows orangutans can learn from video-taped demonstrations.
  • Previous studies on mimicry in orangutans show less faithful transmission of knowledge between individuals.
    • High accuracy may be due to the simplicity of the task.
discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • Does such a simple behavior as demonstrated by these groups of orangutans deserve to be referred to as “culture”?
  • Which definition of culture mentioned at the beginning of the presentation best describes the behaviors of the orangutans in the experiment by Dindo, Stoinski, and Whiten?
  • Assuming the presence of culture in other species, is the value and “uniqueness” of human culture undermined?
    • Should humans intervene in wild populations to conserve particular cultural groups, instead of the species as a whole?
thank you for your attention
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