Animal Cultures

Nature's Second Inheritance System

a new exhibit about culture in nature [more]

Culture Evolves

Resources & Publications

from our Royal Society 350th Anniversary exhibit [more]


Social learning:
"...learning that is influenced by observation of, or interaction with, another animal (typically a conspecific) or its products..."
C. Heyes, 1994

"...a distinctive behavior pattern shared by two or more individuals in a social unit, which persists over time and that new practitioners acquire in part through socially aided learning..."
D. Fragaszy & S. Perry, 2003

...defined by some as synonymous with tradition; others require additional criteria such as that cultures are constituted of multiple and/or diverse kinds of traditions, such as technology and social customs...
A. Whiten & C. van Schaik 2007: see Whiten, 2005 and Laland and Galef, 2009, for further discussion




Culture so strongly shapes us humans that it might seem at first sight to separate us from the rest of biology and from Darwinian evolution. Our recent research paints a very different picture.

We've discovered that 'culture' (broadly, the passing on of traditions by learning from others) is a much more important force in the animal kingdom than has been assumed. It's richer in quality than anybody thought, in a range of animals from fish to apes, and even insects.

Because culture provides a second kind of inheritance, piggy-backing on existing genetic inheritance, discovering the forms it takes is extending and transforming our understanding of biology and Darwinian evolution.

Professor Andy Whiten.


"We've always considered culture as a uniquely human attribute, something to be celebrated as an integral part of civilisations through the ages. However, scientific research is now questioning this perceived wisdom and identifying in other species some fascinating examples of social customs and other practices associated with culture. That science may show that culture is an attribute shared by species other than our own would result in some challenging moral dilemmas for us to navigate, as well as potentially challenging our own understanding of what it means to be human."
Lord Melvyn Bragg FRS FBA - Science Sees Further