Conformity to cultural norms of tool use in chimpanzees

Andrew Whiten, Victoria Horner, Frans B M de Waal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

448 Citations (Scopus)


Rich circumstantial evidence suggests that the extensive behavioural diversity recorded in wild great apes reflects a complexity of cultural variation unmatched by species other than our own(1-12). However, the capacity for cultural transmission assumed by this interpretation has remained difficult to test rigorously in the field, where the scope for controlled experimentation is limited(13-16). Here we show that experimentally introduced technologies will spread within different ape communities. Unobserved by group mates, we first trained a high-ranking female from each of two groups of captive chimpanzees to adopt one of two different tool-use techniques for obtaining food from the same 'Pan-pipe' apparatus, then re-introduced each female to her respective group. All but two of 32 chimpanzees mastered the new technique under the influence of their local expert, whereas none did so in a third population lacking an expert. Most chimpanzees adopted the method seeded in their group, and these traditions continued to diverge over time. A subset of chimpanzees that discovered the alternative method nevertheless went on to match the predominant approach of their companions, showing a conformity bias that is regarded as a hallmark of human culture(11).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)737-740
Number of pages4
Issue number7059
Publication statusPublished - 29 Sept 2005




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