Cultural transmission in animals  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Cultural transmission in animals refers to the way in which a group of animals within a society or culture tends to transmit information and novel behaviour within itself through social behaviour. This does not necessarily occur between separate groups of the same species. Various animals learn from other members of its group. For example, wolves in a pack learn various hunting strategies from one another. Birds are also known to learn from one another. Dolphins pass knowledge on tool use to one another. Richard Dawkins has suggested the concept of a meme, which is a "unit of cultural transmission". Individuals acquire memes through imitating what they observe around them. The Webster's dictionary definition of culture, transmission is one fo the two main components of culture. Learned activities have been exhibited by animals. This sharing of behavior correlates directly with memes. Darwin was the first to suggest what became known as social learning in attempting to explain the transmission of an adaptive pattern of behavior through a population of honey bees. Culture can be transmitted among animals through various methods, the most common of which include imitation, teaching, and language. Imitation is one of the most prevalent modes of cultural transmission in non-human animals, while teaching and language are much less widespread. Cultural transmission is a means of passing on behavioral traits. This involves behavioral information being passed amongst individuals through verbal, visual, or written teaching. This allows new behaviors to be learned by many organisms quickly. Research into the transmission of culture in animals has revealed the role teaching plays in the process. Studies show that cetaceans are able to transmit culture through teaching. The intentional beaching of killer whales along with other cetacean behaviors such as the variations of songs among humpback whales and the sponging technique used by bottle nose dolphins to obtain food provide support for the idea of cetacean cultural transmission. Joseph Terkel was able to analyze the mechanisms involved in social learning of rats to determine that a specific pinecone-eating behavior resulted from a combination of ecology and cultural transmission, as the rats could not figure out how to eat the pine cones without being shown by mature rats.

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