Writing Assignment One–Do primates posses culture?
I think that if culture is defined as learned behavior, than it is reasonable to say that primates posses a form of culture. Primates have been observed making tools to aid in collecting food and developing communication system, both of which are learned behaviors.
It is common in monkeys, apes and humans that behavior and social organization arent necessarily programmed into the genes. There have been several cases where an entire troop has learned from the experiences of just a few. In a group of Japanese macaques, for example, a three-year-old female female developed the habit of washing dirt of of sweet potatoes before she ate them. First her mother, and then peers and then the entire troop started washing their potatoes too. Another macaque troop has a similar experience when a group of dominant males learned to eat wheat. Within an hour, the practice had spread throughout the entire group. Changes in learned behavior seem to spread more quickly from the top down than from the bottom up.
For monkeys as for people, the ability to learn is a tremendous adaptive advantage, permitting them to avoid fatal mistakes. Faced with an environmental change, primates dont have to wait for a genetic or physiological response, since learned behavior and social patterns can be modified.
The extensive usage of tools among primates can also be sited as culture. Chimps have been observed crumpling up leaves to dip in water than they cannot get to with their mouth and using the leaves as sponges. This kind of practice goes beyond animal instinct.
Another highly developed practice is terminating. Chimps carefully choose the right kind of twig to probe the termite hills with. They modify the twig by peeling off the bark to expose the sticky surface. Then they dig holes with their fingers, stick the twig in and fish around until the have enough termites on their twig to have a meal.
Terminating takes time, and their are many Gombe chimps that have never mastered it. Only certain types of twigs will work for the job. Also, once the twig is in the hill and the chimp judges that the termites are crawling on its surface, the chimp has to quickly flip the twig as he pulls it out so that the termites are on top, otherwise they would all fall off.
The cultural transmission of a communication system through learning is a fundamental attribute of language. Trained chimpanzees Washoe and Lucy have tried to teach Ameslan to other animals, including their own offspring. Washoe has taught gestures to other chimps at the institute where she is, including her son, Sequoia, who died when he was very young. There has been other cases of cultural transmission from chimp to chimp.
Chimps and gorillas have at least a simple capacity for langueage. They may never have invented a meaningful gesture system in the wild. However, given a system, they show many human like abilities in learning and using it. Of course, language use by apes is a product of human intervention and teaching. The experiments dont suggest that apes can invent language. But young apes have managed to learn the basics of gestures and language.
Apes, like humans, may also try to teach their language to others. Lucy, not fully realizing the difference between primate hands and feline paws, once tried to mold her pet cats paw into Ameslem signs.
There is more than enough proof that primates have the capacity to learn behavior, and attempts to teach it to others. If culture is defended as learned behavior, it seems reasonable to suggest that primates to have culture.