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The ABC of Social Learning: Affect, Behavior, and Cognition

2021-7-22, Gruber, Thibaud, Bazhydai, Marina, Sievers, Christine, Clément, Fabrice, Dukes, Daniel

Debates concerning social learning in the behavioral and the developmental cognitive sciences have largely ignored the literature on social influence in the affective sciences despite having arguably the same object of study. We argue that this is a mistake and that no complete model of social learning can exclude an affective aspect. In addition, we argue that including affect can advance the somewhat stagnant debates concerning the unique characteristics of social learning in humans compared to other animals. We first review the two major bodies of literature in nonhuman animals and human development, highlighting the fact that the former has adopted a behavioral approach while the latter has adopted a cognitive approach, leading to irreconcilable differences. We then introduce a novel framework, affective social learning (ASL), that studies the way we learn about value(s). We show that all three approaches are complementary and focus, respectively, on behavior toward; cognitions concerning; and feelings about objects, events, and people in our environment. All three thus contribute to an affective, behavioral, and cognitive (ABC) story of knowledge transmission: the ABC of social learning. In particular, ASL can provide the backbone of an integrative approach to social learning. We argue that this novel perspective on social learning can allow both evolutionary continuity and ontogenetic development by lowering the cognitive thresholds that appear often too complex for other species and nonverbal infants. Yet, it can also explain some of the major achievements only found in human cultures.

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Apes have culture but may not know that they do

2015-3-23, Gruber, Thibaud, Zuberbühler, Klaus, Clément, Fabrice, van Shaik, Carel

There is good evidence that some ape behaviors can be transmitted socially and that this can lead to group-specific traditions. However, many consider animal traditions, including those in great apes, to be fundamentally different from human cultures, largely because of lack of evidence for cumulative processes and normative conformity, but perhaps also because current research on ape culture is usually restricted to behavioral comparisons. Here, we propose to analyze ape culture not only at the surface behavioral level but also at the underlying cognitive level. To this end, we integrate empirical findings in apes with theoretical frameworks developed in developmental psychology regarding the representation of tools and the development of metarepresentational abilities, to characterize the differences between ape and human cultures at the cognitive level. Current data are consistent with the notion of apes possessing mental representations of tools that can be accessed through re-representations: apes may reorganize their knowledge of tools in the form of categories or functional schemes. However, we find no evidence for metarepresentations of cultural knowledge: apes may not understand that they or others hold beliefs about their cultures. The resulting Jourdain Hypothesis, based on Molière’s character, argues that apes express their cultures without knowing that they are cultural beings because of cognitive limitations in their ability to represent knowledge, a determining feature of modern human cultures, allowing representing and modifying the current norms of the group. Differences in metarepresentational processes may thus explain fundamental differences between human and other animals’ cultures, notably limitations in cumulative behavior and normative conformity. Future empirical work should focus on how animals mentally represent their cultural knowledge to conclusively determine the ways by which humans are unique in their cultural behavior.

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Community-specific evaluation of tool affordances in wild chimpanzees

2011, Gruber, Thibaud, Muller, Martin N. N., Reynolds, Vernon, Wrangham, Richard W., Zuberbühler, Klaus

The notion of animal culture, defined as socially transmitted community-specific behaviour patterns, remains controversial, notably because the definition relies on surface behaviours without addressing underlying cognitive processes. In contrast, human cultures are the product of socially acquired ideas that shape how individuals interact with their environment. We conducted field experiments with two culturally distinct chimpanzee communities in Uganda, which revealed significant differences in how individuals considered the affording parts of an experimentally provided tool to extract honey from a standardised cavity. Firstly, individuals of the two communities found different functional parts of the tool salient, suggesting that they experienced a cultural bias in their cognition. Secondly, when the alternative function was made more salient, chimpanzees were unable to learn it, suggesting that prior cultural background can interfere with new learning. Culture appears to shape how chimpanzees see the world, suggesting that a cognitive component underlies the observed behavioural patterns.

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A comparison of bonobo and chimpanzee tool use: evidence for a female bias in the Pan lineage

2010, Gruber, Thibaud, Clay, Zanna, Zuberbühler, Klaus

Chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, are the most sophisticated tool-users among all nonhumanprimates. From an evolutionary perspective, it is therefore puzzling that the tool use behaviour of their closest living primate relative, the bonobo, Pan paniscus, has been described as particularly poor. However, only a small number of bonobo groups have been studied in the wild and only over comparably short periods. Here, we show that captive bonobos and chimpanzees are equally diverse tool-users in most contexts. Our observations illustrate that tool use in bonobos can be highly complex and no different from what has been described for chimpanzees. The only major difference in the chimpanzee and bonobo data was that bonobos of all age-sex classes used tools in a play context, a possible manifestation of their neotenous nature.We also found that female bonobos displayed a larger range of tool use behaviours than males, a pattern previously described for chimpanzees but not for other great apes. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that the female-biased tool use evolved prior to the split between bonobos and chimpanzees.

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Group membership influences more social identification than social learning or overimitation in children

2019-5-15, Gruber, Thibaud, Deschenaux, Amelie, Frick, Aurélien, Clément, Fabrice

Group membership is a strong driver of everyday life in humans, influencing similarity judgments, trust choices, and learning processes. However, its ontogenetic development remains to be understood. This study investigated how group membership, age, sex, and identification with a team influenced 39- to 60-month-old children (N = 94) in a series of similarity, trust, and learning tasks. Group membership had the most influence on similarity and trust tasks, strongly biasing choices toward in-groups. In contrast, prior experience and identification with the team were the most important factors in the learning tasks. Finally, overimitation occurred most when the children’s team, but not the opposite, displayed meaningless actions. Future work must investigate how these cognitive abilities combine during development to facilitate cultural processes.

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Social Network Analysis Shows Direct Evidence for Social Transmission of Tool Use in Wild Chimpanzees

2014, Hobaiter, Catherine, Poisot, Timothee, Zuberbühler, Klaus, Hoppitt, William, Gruber, Thibaud

Social network analysis methods have made it possible to test whether novel behaviors in animals spread through individual or social learning. To date, however, social network analysis of wild populations has been limited to static models that cannot precisely reflect the dynamics of learning, for instance, the impact of multiple observations across time. Here, we present a novel dynamic version of network analysis that is capable of capturing temporal aspects of acquisition-that is, how successive observations by an individual influence its acquisition of the novel behavior. We apply this model to studying the spread of two novel tool-use variants, "moss-sponging'' and "leaf-sponge re-use,'' in the Sonso chimpanzee community of Budongo Forest, Uganda. Chimpanzees are widely considered the most "cultural'' of all animal species, with 39 behaviors suspected as socially acquired, most of them in the domain of tool-use. The cultural hypothesis is supported by experimental data from captive chimpanzees and a range of observational data. However, for wild groups, there is still no direct experimental evidence for social learning, nor has there been any direct observation of social diffusion of behavioral innovations. Here, we tested both a static and a dynamic network model and found strong evidence that diffusion patterns of moss-sponging, but not leaf-sponge re-use, were significantly better explained by social than individual learning. The most conservative estimate of social transmission accounted for 85% of observed events, with an estimated 15-fold increase in learning rate for each time a novice observed an informed individual moss-sponging. We conclude that group-specific behavioral variants in wild chimpanzees can be socially learned, adding to the evidence that this prerequisite for culture originated in a common ancestor of great apes and humans, long before the advent of modern humans.

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Female bonobos use copulation calls as social signals

2011, Clay, Zanna, Pika, Simone, Gruber, Thibaud, Zuberbühler, Klaus

During mating events, females of many primate species produce loud and distinct vocalizations known as ‘copulation calls’. The adaptive significance of these signals is considered to be in promoting the caller’s direct reproductive success. Here, we investigated copulation calling in bonobos (Pan paniscus), a species in which females produce these vocalizations during sexual interactions with partners of both sexes. Females were more likely to call when mating with males than with females. We also observed a positive relationship between the likelihood of calling and partner rank, regardless of partner sex. Sexual activity generally increased with swelling size (an indicator of reproductive state) and, during their peak swelling, females called more with male than with female partners. Female bonobos are unusual among the nonhuman primates in terms of their heightened socio-sexuality. Our results suggest that in this species, copulation calls have undergone an evolutionary transition from a purely reproductive to a more general social function, reflecting the intrinsic evolutionary links between vocal behaviour and social cognition.

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Evidence for a sex effect during overimitation: boys copy irrelevant modelled actions more than girls across cultures

2017-12-6, Frick, Aurélien, Clément, Fabrice, Gruber, Thibaud

Children are skilful at acquiring tool-using skills by faithfully copying relevant and irrelevant actions performed by others, but poor at innovating tools to solve problems. Five- to twelve-year-old urban French and rural Serbian children (N = 208) were exposed to a Hook task; a jar containing a reward in a bucket and a pipe cleaner as potential recovering tool material. In both countries, few children under the age of 10 made a hook from the pipe cleaner to retrieve the reward on their own. However, from five onward, the majority of unsuccessful children succeeded after seeing an adult model manufacturing a hook without completing the task. Additionally, a third of the children who observed a similar demonstration including an irrelevant action performed with a second object, a string, replicated this meaningless action. Children's difficulty with innovation and early capacity for overimitation thus do not depend on socio-economic background. Strikingly, we document a sex difference in overimitation across cultures, with boys engaging more in overimitation than girls, a finding that may result from differences regarding explorative tool-related behaviour. This male-biased sex effect sheds new light on our understanding of overimitation, and more generally, on how human tool culture evolved.

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Vocal Recruitment for Joint Travel in Wild Chimpanzees

2013, Gruber, Thibaud, Zuberbühler, Klaus

Joint travel is a common social activity of many group-living animals, which requires some degree of coordination, sometimes through communication signals. Here, we studied the use of an acoustically distinct vocalisation in chimpanzees, the 'travel hoo', a signal given specifically in the travel context. We were interested in how this call type was produced to coordinate travel, whether it was aimed at specific individuals and how recipients responded. We found that 'travel hoos' were regularly given prior to impending departures and that silent travel initiations were less successful in recruiting than vocal initiations. Other behaviours associated with departure were unrelated to recruitment, suggesting that 'travel hoos' facilitated joint travel. Crucially, 'travel hoos' were more often produced in the presence of allies than other individuals, with high rates of recruitment success. We discuss these findings as evidence for how motivation to perform a specific social activity can lead to the production of a vocal signal that qualifies as 'intentional' according to most definitions, suggesting that a key psychological component of human language may have already been present in the common ancestor of chimpanzees and humans.

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The Influence of Ecology on Chimpanzee Cultural Behaviour: A Case Study of 5 Ugandan Chimpanzee Communities

2011, Gruber, Thibaud, Zuberbühler, Klaus