Apes: Social Learning

A. Whiten*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Studies of great apes - orangutans, gorillas, bonobos, and chimpanzees - have played a prominent role in research on social learning in animals. Observational studies in the wild have identified over 30 different traditions in both chimpanzees and orangutans, suggesting that these apes show unusual reliance on cultural processes. Diffusion experiments with captive chimpanzees, in which behavioral variants are seeded into different communities, confirm that chimpanzees can sustain cultures composed of multiple traditions through repeated social transmission events. Further experiments show that apes may draw selectively on several different social-learning processes, including imitation of actions and emulation of the functional consequences of actions.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Animal Behavior
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages7
ISBN (Print)9780080453378
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Ape
  • Chimpanzee
  • Cultural transmission
  • Culture
  • Diffusion experiment
  • Emulation
  • Gorilla
  • Imitation
  • Orangutan
  • Social learning
  • Tradition
  • Transmission chain


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