The pervasive role of social learning in primate lifetime development

Andrew Whiten, Erica van de Waal

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)
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In recent decades, an accelerating research effort has exploited a substantial diversity of methodologies to garner mounting evidence for social learning and culture in many species of primate. As in humans, the evidence suggests that the juvenile phases of non-human primates’ lives represent a period of particular intensity in adaptive learning from others, yet the relevant research remains scattered in the literature. Accordingly, we here offer what we believe to be the first substantial collation and review of this body of work and its implications for the lifetime behavioral ecology of primates. We divide our analysis into three main phases: a first phase of learning focused on primary attachment figures, typically the mother; a second phase of selective learning from a widening array of group members, including some with expertise that the primary figures may lack; and a third phase following later dispersal, when a migrant individual encounters new ecological and social circumstances about which the existing residents possess expertise that can be learned from. Collating a diversity of discoveries about this lifetime process leads us to conclude that social learning pervades primate ontogenetic development, importantly shaping locally adaptive knowledge and skills that span multiple aspects of the behavioral repertoire.
Original languageEnglish
Article number80
Number of pages16
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Early online date3 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • Social learning
  • Traditions
  • Culture
  • Ontogeny
  • Development
  • Juvenile primates


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