Special Issue

April 2011

Special Issue

A special issue from Royal Society Publishing- 'Culture evolves', organized and edited by Andrew Whiten, Robert A Hinde, Christopher B Stringer & Kevin N Laland.


Flier (pdf)

£47.50: Details & Order info... (quote special code TB1567)
or email Debbie.Vaughan@royalsociety.org



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



"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

University of St AndrewsUniversity of CambridgeUniversity of EdinburghUniversity of StirlingBBSRCLeverhulme TrustESRCERC

Web Resources:

Further Reading:


  1. Laland, K. N. & Galef, B. G. (Eds.) (2009) The Question of Animal Culture. Harvard University Press.
  2. Heyes, C. M. et al. (Eds.) (2009) Evolution, development and intentional control of imitation. Theme issue, Philosphical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 364, number 1528.
  3. Smith, K. et al. (Eds.) (2008) Cultural transmission and the evolution of human behaviour. Theme issue, Philosphical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 363, number 1509.


  1. Whiten, A. The second inheritance system of chimpanzees and humans. Nature 437, 52-55.
  2. Mesoudi, A., Whiten, A. & Laland, K. N. Towards a unified science of cultural evolution. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 29, 329-383.
  3. Whiten, A., Hinde, R. A., Stringer, C. B. & Laland, K. N. (2011). Culture Evolves. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 366, 938-948.

Chimpanzee Cultures

  1. Whiten, A. (2010) in The Mind of the Chimpanzee, E. Lonsdorf, S. Ross & T. Matsuzawa (eds) Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  2. Whiten, A., et al. (2005) Conformity to cultural norms of tool use in chimpanzees Nature, 437, 737-740.
  3. Whiten, A. et al. (2007) Transmission of Multiple Traditions within and between Chimpanzee Groups Current Biology, 17, 1038-1043.

Teaching and Learning by Observation in Meerkats

  1. Thornton, A. & McAuliffe, K. (2006). Teaching in wild meerkats. Science, 313, 227-229.
  2. Thornton, A. & Malapert, A. (2009). Experimental evidence for social transmission of food acquisition techniques in wild meerkats. Animal Behaviour, 78, 255-264.

Culture in fish?

  1. Laland K.N. & Janik V. (2006) Trends in Ecology & Evolution 21: 542-547; Laland, K.N. (2008) Current Biology 18(9): R366-R370
  2. Reader S.M. & Laland K.N. (2000) Animal Behaviour 60: 175-180; Laland, K.N. & Williams, K. (1997) Animal Behaviour 53: 1161-1169.
  3. Pike T.W. et al. (2010) Behavioural Ecology

Culture in 'Laboratory Microsocieties'

  1. Caldwell, C. A. & Millen, A. E. (2008). Experimental models for testing hypotheses about cumulative cultural evolution. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29, 165-171.
  2. Caldwell, C. A. & Millen, A. E. (2009). Social learning mechanisms and cumulative cultural evolution: is imitation necessary? Psychological Science, 20, 1478-1483.
  3. Caldwell, C. A. & Millen, A. E. (2010). Conservatism in laboratory microsocieties: unpredictable payoffs accentuate group-specific traditions. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31, 123-130.

The Great Social Learning Tournament

  1. L. Rendell, R. Boyd, D. Cownden, M. Enquist, K. Eriksson, M. W. Feldman, L. Fogarty, S. Ghirlanda, T. Lillicrap, K. N. Laland "Why copy others? Insights from the social learning tournament" Science, 328:208-213
  2. See also: Tournament web page

Evolving language in the lab

  1. Kirby, S., Cornish, H., Smith, K. (2008). Cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory: An experimental approach to the origins of structure in human language. PNAS 105(31):10681-10686
  2. Kirby, S., Dowman, M. and Griffiths, T. (2007) Innateness and culture in the evolution of language PNAS 104(12):5241-5245.


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