Nicolas Claidière
Laboratoire de psychologie cognitive
Aix-Marseille University, CNRS
13331 Marseille, France

Detecting social (in) stability in primates from their temporal co-presence network

Gelardi, V., Fagot, J., Barrat, A., & Claidière, N. (2019). Detecting social (in) stability in primates from their temporal co-presence network. Animal Behaviour. DOI:10.1016/j.anbehav.2019.09.011

Abstract: The stability of social relationships is important to animals living in groups, and social network analysis provides a powerful tool to help characterize and understand their (in)stability and the consequences at the group level. However, the use of dynamic social networks is still limited in this context because it requires long-term social data and new analytical tools. Here, we studied the dynamic evolution of a group of 29 Guinea baboons, Papio papio, using a data set of automatically collected cognitive tests comprising more than 16 million records collected over 3 years. We first built a monthly aggregated temporal network describing the baboon’s co-presence in the cognitive testing booths. We then used a null model, considering the heterogeneity in the baboons’ activity, to define both positive (association) and negative (avoidance) monthly networks. We tested social balance theory by combining these positive and negative social networks. The results showed that the networks were structurally balanced and that newly created edges also tended to preserve social balance. We then investigated several network metrics to gain insights into the individual level and group level social networks’ long-term temporal evolution. Interestingly, a measure of similarity between successive monthly networks was able to pinpoint periods of stability and instability and to show how some baboons’ ego-networks remained stable while others changed radically. Our study confirms the prediction of social balance theory but also shows that large fluctuations in the numbers of triads may limit its applicability to study the dynamic evolution of animal social networks. In contrast, the use of the similarity measure proved to be very versatile and sensitive in detecting relationships’ (in)stabilities at different levels. The changes we identified can be linked, at least in some cases, to females changing primary male, as observed in the wild.

Obstacles to the spread of unintuitive beliefs

Mercier, H., Majima, Y., Claidière, N., & Léone, J. (2019). Obstacles to the spread of unintuitive beliefs. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 1, E10. doi:10.1017/ehs.2019.10

Abstract: Many socially significant beliefs are unintuitive, from the harmlessness of GMOs to the efficacy of vaccination, and they are acquired via deference toward individuals who are more confident, more competent or a majority. In the two-step flow model of communication, a first group of individuals acquires some beliefs through deference and then spreads these beliefs more broadly. Ideally, these individuals should be able to explain why they deferred to a given source – to provide arguments from expertise – and others should find these arguments convincing. We test these requirements using a perceptual task with participants from the US and Japan. In Experiment 1, participants were provided with first-hand evidence that they should defer to an expert, leading a majority of participants to adopt the expert’s answer. However, when attempting to pass on this answer, only a minority of those participants used arguments from expertise. In Experiment 2, participants receive an argument from expertise describing the expert’s competence, instead of witnessing it first-hand. This leads to a significant drop in deference compared with Experiment 1. These experiments highlight significant obstacles to the transmission of unintuitive beliefs.

High-fidelity copying is not necessarily the key to cumulative cultural evolution

Saldana, C., Fagot, J., Kirby, S., Smith, K., & Claidière, N. (2019). High-fidelity copying is not necessarily the key to cumulative cultural evolution: a study in monkeys and children. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 286(1904), 20190729. doi:10.1098/rspb.2019.0729

Abstract: The unique cumulative nature of human culture has often been explained by high-fidelity copying mechanisms found only in human social learning. However, transmission chain experiments in human and non-human primates suggest that cumulative cultural evolution (CCE) might not necessarily depend on high-fidelity copying after all. In this study, we test whether defining properties of CCE can emerge in a non-copying task. We performed transmission chain experiments in Guinea baboons and human children where individuals observed and produced visual patterns composed of four squares on touchscreen devices. In order to be rewarded, participants had to avoid touching squares that were touched by a previous participant. In other words, they were rewarded for innovation rather than copying. Results nevertheless exhibited fundamental properties of CCE: an increase over generations in task performance and the emergence of systematic structure. However, these properties arose from different mechanisms across species: children, unlike baboons, converged in behaviour over generations by copying specific patterns in a different location, thus introducing alternative copying mechanisms into the non-copying task. In children, prior biases towards specific shapes led to convergence in behaviour across chains, while baboon chains showed signs of lineage specificity. We conclude that CCE can result from mechanisms with varying degrees of fidelity in transmission and thus that high-fidelity copying is not necessarily the key to CCE.

Handedness in monkeys reflects hemispheric specialization within the central sulcus. An in vivo MRI study in right- and left-handed olive baboons

Margiotoudi, K., Marie, D., Claidière, N., Coulon, O., Roth, M., Nazarian, B., . . . Meguerditchian, A. (2019). Handedness in monkeys reflects hemispheric specialization within the central sulcus. An in vivo MRI study in right- and left-handed olive baboons. Cortex.

Abstract: Handedness, one of the most prominent expressions of laterality, has been historically considered unique to human. This noteworthy feature relates to contralateral inter-hemispheric asymmetries in the motor hand area following the mid-portion of the central sulcus. However, within an evolutionary approach, it remains debatable whether hand preferences in nonhuman primates are associated with similar patterns of hemispheric specialization. In the present study conducted in Old world monkeys, we investigate anatomical asymmetries of the central sulcus in a sample of 86 olive baboons (Papio anubis) from in vivo T1 anatomical magnetic resonance images (MRI). Out of this sample, 35 individuals were classified as right-handed and 28 as left-handed according to their hand use responses elicited by a bimanual coordinated tube task. Here we report that the direction and degree of hand preference (left or right), as measured by this manual task, relates to and correlates with contralateral hemispheric sulcus depth asymmetry, within a mid-portion of the central sulcus. This neuroanatomical manifestation of handedness in baboons located in a region, which may correspond to the motor hand area, questions the phylogenetic origins of human handedness that may date back to their common ancestor, 25–40 millions years ago.

The baboon: A model for the study of language evolution

Fagot, J., Boë, L.-J., Berthomier, F., Claidière, N., Malassis, R., Meguerditchian, A., . . . Montant, M. (2019). The baboon: A model for the study of language evolution. Journal of Human Evolution, 126, 39-50.

Abstract: Comparative research on the origins of human language often focuses on a limited number of language related cognitive functions or anatomical structures that are compared across species. The underlying assumption of this approach is that a single or a limited number of factors may crucially explain how language appeared in the human lineage. Another potentially fruitful approach is to consider human language as the result of a (unique) assemblage of multiple cognitive and anatomical components, some of which are present in other species. This paper is a first step in that direction. It focuses on the baboon, a non-human primate that has been studied extensively for years, including several brain, anatomical, cognitive and cultural dimensions that are involved in human language. This paper presents recent data collected on baboons regarding (1) a selection of domain-general cognitive functions that are core functions for language, (2) vocal production, (3) gestural production and cerebral lateralization, and (4) cumulative culture. In all these domains, it shows that the baboons share with humans many cognitive or brain mechanisms which are central for language. Because of the multidimensionality of the knowledge accumulated on the baboon, that species is an excellent nonhuman primate model for the study of the evolutionary origins of language.

The repeatability of cognitive performance: a meta-analysis

Cauchoix, M., Chow, P. K. Y., van Horik, J. O., Atance, C. M., Barbeau, E. J., Barragan-Jason, G., . . . Morand-Ferron, J. (2018). The repeatability of cognitive performance: a meta-analysis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 373(1756). doi:10.1098/rstb.2017.0281

Abstract: Selection acts on heritable individual variation in behaviours. Both behavioural and cognitive processes play important roles in mediating an individual’s interactions with their environment. Yet, while there is a vast literature on repeatable individual differences in behaviour, relatively little is known about the repeatability of cognitive performance. To further our understanding of the evolution of cognition we gathered 44 datasets on individual performances of 25 species
60 and used meta-analysis to evaluate whether cognitive performance is repeatable across six animal classes. We assessed repeatability (R) in performance (1) on the same task presented at different time intervals (temporal repeatability), and (2) on different tasks that measure the same putative cognitive ability (contextual repeatability). We also addressed whether R estimates are influenced by seven extrinsic factors (moderators): type of cognitive task, type of measurement, delay between tasks, origin of the subjects, experimental context, taxonomic class and if the R value was published or unpublished. We found support for both temporal and contextual repeatability of individual variation in cognitive performance, with significant mean R estimates ranging between 0.15 and 0.28. R estimates were mostly influenced by the type of cognitive performance measures and the fact that R values was published, none of the other moderators showed consistent and significant impacts on repeatability estimates. Our overall findings highlight the widespread occurrence of consistent inter-individual variation in cognition which, like behaviour, may have fitness implications.

Convergent transformation and selection in cultural evolution

Claidière, N., Amedon, G. K.-k., André, J.-B., Kirby, S., Smith, K., Sperber, D., & Fagot, J. (2018). Convergent transformation and selection in cultural evolution. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(2), 191-202. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2017.12.007

Abstract: In biology, natural selection is the main explanation of adaptations and it is an attractive idea to think that an analogous force could have the same role in cultural evolution. In support of this idea, all the main ingredients for natural selection have been documented in the cultural domain. However, the changes that occur during cultural transmission typically result in convergent transformation, non-random cultural modifications, casting some doubts on the importance of natural selection in the cultural domain. To progress on this issue more empirical research is needed. Here, using nearly half a million experimental trials performed by a group of baboons (Papio papio), we simulate cultural evolution under various conditions of natural selection and do an additional experiment to tease apart the role of convergent transformation and selection. Our results confirm that transformation strongly constrain the variation available to selection and therefore strongly limit its impact on cultural evolution. Surprisingly, in our study, transformation also enhances the effect of selection by stabilising cultural variation. We conclude that, in culture, selection can change the evolutionary trajectory substantially in some cases, but can only act on the variation provided by (typically biased) transformation.

Action-matching biases in monkeys

O’Sullivan, E. P., Claidière, N., & Caldwell, C. A. (2017). Action-matching biases in monkeys (Sapajus spp.) in a stimulus–response compatibility task: Evaluating experience-dependent malleability. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 131(4), 337-347.

Abstract: Stimulus–response (S–R) compatibility effects occur when observing certain stimuli facilitate the performance of a related response and interfere with performing an incompatible or different response. Using stimulus–response action pairings, this phenomenon has been used to study imitation effects in humans, and here we use a similar procedure to examine imitative biases in nonhuman primates. Eight capuchin monkeys (Sapajus spp.) were trained to perform hand and mouth actions in a stimulus–response compatibility task. Monkeys rewarded for performing a compatible action (i.e., using their hand or mouth to perform an action after observing an experimenter use the same effector) performed significantly better than those rewarded for incompatible actions (i.e., performing an action after observing an experimenter use the other effector), suggesting an initial bias for imitative action over an incompatible S–R pairing. After a predetermined number of trials, reward contingencies were reversed; that is, monkeys initially rewarded for compatible responses were now rewarded for incompatible responses, and vice versa. In this 2nd training stage, no difference in performance was identified between monkeys rewarded for compatible or incompatible actions, suggesting any imitative biases were now absent. In a 2nd experiment, 2 monkeys learned both compatible and incompatible reward contingencies in a series of learning reversals. Overall, no difference in performance ability could be attributed to the type of rule (compatible–incompatible) being rewarded. Together, these results suggest that monkeys exhibit a weak bias toward action copying, which (in line with findings from humans) can largely be eliminated through counterimitative experience.

Other better vs. self better in baboons

Dumas, F., Fagot, J., Davranche, K., & Claidière, N. (2017). Other better versus self better in baboons: an evolutionary approach of social comparison. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 284(1855). doi:10.1098/rspb.2017.0248

Abstract: Comparing oneself with others is an important characteristic of human social life, but the link between human and non-human forms of social comparison remains largely unknown. The present study used a computerized task presented in a social context to explore psychological mechanisms supporting social comparison in baboons and compare major findings with those usually observed in humans. We found that the effects of social comparison on subject’s performance were guided both by similarity (same vs different sex) and task complexity. Comparing oneself with a better off other (upward comparison) increased performance when the other was similar rather than dissimilar, and a reverse effect was obtained when the self was better (downward comparison). Furthermore, when the other was similar, upward comparison led to a better performance than downward comparison. Interestingly, the beneficial effect of upward comparison on baboons’ performance was only observed during simple task. Our results support the hypothesis of shared social comparison mechanisms in human and nonhuman primates.

Figure 2. (a) Estimated differences in reaction times from the averaged model for the three explanatory variables, task complexity (simple versus complex), comparison (downward/self better versus upward/other better) and similarity (same sex versus different sex). Error bars represent standard errors. Horizontal bars indicate a significant difference between the two conditions. (b) For comparison purposes, this graph illustrates the main results of Tesser et al.’s study on social comparison effects in humans [8].

Argumentation and the Diffusion of Counter-Intuitive Beliefs

Claidière, N., Trouche, E., & Mercier, H. (2017). Argumentation and the Diffusion of Counter-Intuitive Beliefs. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. doi:10.1037/xge0000323

Abstract: Research in cultural evolution has focused on the spread of intuitive or minimally counterintuitive beliefs. However, some very counterintuitive beliefs can also spread successfully, at least in some communities—scientific theories being the most prominent example. We suggest that argumentation could be an important factor in the spread of some very counterintuitive beliefs. A first experiment demonstrates that argumentation enables the spread of the counterintuitive answer to a reasoning problem in large discussion groups, whereas this spread is limited or absent when participants can show their answers to each other but cannot discuss. A series of experiments using the technique of repeated transmission show that, in the case of the counterintuitive belief studied: (a) arguments can help spread this belief without loss; (b) conformist bias does not help spread this belief; and (c) authority or prestige bias play a minimal role in helping spread this belief. Thus, argumentation seems to be necessary and sufficient for the spread of some counterintuitive beliefs.

Diffusion of a counter-intuitive answer (green) in groups that initially give mostly the intuitive wrong answer (red). The size of the node represents the confidence of the participants.

Emotion-Cognition Interaction in Nonhuman Primates

Blanchette, I., Marzouki, Y., Claidière, N., Gullstrand, J., & Fagot, J. (2016). Emotion-Cognition Interaction in Nonhuman Primates. Psychological Science, 28(1), 3-11.

Abstract: It is well established that emotion and cognition interact in humans, but such an interaction has not been extensively studied in nonhuman primates. We investigated whether emotional value can affect nonhuman primates’ processing of stimuli that are only mentally represented, not visually available. In a short-term memory task, baboons memorized the location of two target squares of the same color, which were presented with a distractor of a different color. Through prior long-term conditioning, one of the two colors had acquired a negative valence. Subjects were slower and less accurate on the memory task when the targets were negative than when they were neutral. In contrast, subjects were faster and more accurate when the distractors were negative than when they were neutral. Some of these effects were modulated by individual differences in emotional disposition. Overall, the results reveal a pattern of cognitive avoidance of negative stimuli, and show that emotional value alters cognitive processing in baboons even when the stimuli are not physically present. This suggests that emotional influences on cognition are deeply rooted in evolutionary continuity.

Physical intelligence does matter to cumulative technological culture

Osiurak, F., De Oliveira, E., Navarro, J., Lesourd, M., Claidière, N., & Reynaud, E. (2016). Physical Intelligence Does Matter to Cumulative Technological Culture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. doi: 10.1037/xge0000189

Abstract: Tool-based culture is not unique to humans, but cumulative technological culture is. The social intelligence hypothesis suggests that this phenomenon is fundamentally based on uniquely human sociocognitive skills (e.g., shared intentionality). An alternative hypothesis is that cumulative technological culture also crucially depends on physical intelligence, which may reflect fluid and crystallized aspects of intelligence and enables people to understand and improve the tools made by predecessors. By using a tool-making– based microsociety paradigm, we demonstrate that physical intelligence is a stronger predictor of cumulative technological performance than social intelligence. Moreover, learners’ physical intelligence is critical not only in observational learning but also when learners interact verbally with teachers. Finally, we show that cumulative performance is only slightly influenced by teachers’ physical and social intelligence. In sum, human technological culture needs “great engineers” to evolve regardless of the proportion of “great pedagogues.” Social intelligence might play a more limited role than commonly assumed, perhaps in tool-use/making situations in which teachers and learners have to share symbolic representations.

Social networks from automated cognitive testing

Claidière, N., Gullstrand, J., Latouche, A., & Fagot, J. (2015). Using Automated Learning Devices for Monkeys (ALDM) to study social networks. Behavior research methods, 1-11. doi: 10.3758/s13428-015-0686-9

Abstract: Social network analysis has become a prominent tool to study animal social life, and there is an increasing need to develop new systems to collect social information automatically, systematically, and reliably. Here we explore the use of a freely accessible Automated Learning Device for Monkeys (ALDM) to collect such social information on a group of 22
captive baboons (Papio papio). We compared the social network obtained from the co-presence of the baboons in ten ALDM testing booths to the social network obtained through standard behavioral observation techniques. The results show that the co-presence network accurately reflects the social organization of the group, and also indicate under which conditions the co-presence network is most informative. In particular, the best correlation between the two networks was obtained with a minimum of 40 days of computer records and for individuals with at least 500 records per day. We also show through random permutation tests that the observed correlations go beyond what would be observed by simple synchronous activity, to reflect a preferential choice of closely located
testing booths. The use of automatized cognitive testing therefore presents a new way of obtaining a large and regular amount of social information that is necessary to develop social network analysis. It also opens the possibility of studying dynamic changes in network structure with time and in relation to the cognitive performance of individuals.

Mutual medication in capuchin monkeys

Bowler, M., Messer, E. J. E., Claidière, N., & Whiten, A. (2015). Mutual medication in capuchin monkeys – Social anointing improves coverage of topically applied anti-parasite medicines. Scientific reports, 5, 15030

Watch the beautiful video: Monkey medicine

Abstract: Wild and captive capuchin monkeys will anoint themselves with a range of strong smelling substances including millipedes, ants, limes and onions. Hypotheses for the function of the behaviour range from medicinal to social. However, capuchin monkeys may anoint in contact with other individuals, as well as individually. The function of social anointing has also been explained as either medicinal or to enhance social bonding. By manipulating the abundance of an anointing resource given to two groups of tufted capuchins, we tested predictions derived from the main hypotheses for the functions of anointing and in particular, social anointing. Monkeys engaged in individual and social anointing in similar proportions when resources were rare or common, and monkeys holding
resources continued to join anointing groups, indicating that social anointing has functions beyond that of gaining access to resources. The distribution of individual and social anointing actions on the monkeys’ bodies supports a medicinal function for both individual and social anointing, that requires no additional social bonding hypotheses. Individual anointing targets hard-to-see body parts that are harder to groom, whilst social anointing targets hard-to-reach body parts. Social anointing in capuchins is a form of mutual medication that improves coverage of topically applied anti-parasite medicines.

Assessment of Social Cognition in Non-human Primates Using a Network of Test Systems

Universal Cognitive Mechanisms Explain the Cultural Success of Bloodletting

Miton, H., Claidière, N., & Mercier, H. (2015) Universal Cognitive Mechanisms Explain the Cultural Success of Bloodletting. Evolution and Human Behavior. doi: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.01.003

Bloodletting across cultures worldwide

Figure: Bloodletting across cultures worldwide

Abstract: Bloodletting—the practice of letting blood out to cure a patient—was for centuries one of the main therapies in the West. We lay out three potential explanations for bloodletting’s cultural success: that it was efficient, that it was defended by prestigious sources—in particular ancient physicians—, and that cognitive mechanisms made it a particularly attractive practice. To test these explanations, we first review the anthropological data available in eHRAF. These data reveal that bloodletting is practiced by many unrelated cultures worldwide, where it is performed for different indications and in different ways. This suggests that the success of bloodletting cannot only be explained by its medical efficiency or by the prestige of Western physicians. Instead, some universal cognitive mechanisms likely make bloodletting an attractive form of therapy. We further test this hypothesis using the technique of transmission chains. Three experiments are conducted in the U.S., a culture that does not practice bloodletting. Studies 1 and 2 reveal that stories involving bloodletting survive longer than some other common therapies, and that the most successful variants in the experiments are also the most successful variants worldwide. Study 3 shows how a story about a mundane event—an accidental cut—can turn into a story about bloodletting. This research demonstrates the potential of combining different methodologies—review of anthropological data, experiments, and modeling—to investigate cultural phenomena.

Selective and contagious prosocial resource donation in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and humans

Claidière, N., Whiten, A., Mareno, M. C., Messer, E. J. E., Brosnan, S. F., Hopper, L. M., . . . McGuigan, N. (2015). Selective and contagious prosocial resource donation in capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and humans. Scientific reports(5), 7631. doi: 10.1038/srep07631

Prosocial test for capuchins, chimpanzees and humans

Figure: Experimental setup with chimpanzees, capuchins and humans (adults and infants). Drawing from Jason Zampol.

Abstract: Prosocial acts benefitting others are widespread amongst humans. By contrast, chimpanzees have failed to demonstrate such a disposition in several studies, leading some authors to conclude that the forms of prosociality studied evolved in humans since our common ancestry. However, similar prosocial behavior has since been documented in other primates, such as capuchin monkeys. Here, applying the same methodology to humans, chimpanzees, and capuchins, we provide evidence that all three species will display prosocial behavior, but only in certain conditions. Fundamental forms of prosociality were age-dependent in children, conditional on self-beneficial resource distributions even at age seven, and conditional on social or resource configurations in chimpanzees and capuchins. We provide the first evidence that experience of conspecific companions’ prosocial behavior facilitates prosocial behavior in children and chimpanzees. Prosocial actions were manifested in all three species following rules of contingency that may reflect strategically adaptive responses.

Social networks in primates: smart and tolerant species have more efficient networks

Network of different speciesPasquaretta, C., Leve, M., Claidiere, N., van de Waal, E., Whiten, A., MacIntosh, A. J. J., . . . Sueur, C. (2014). Social networks in primates: smart and tolerant species have more efficient networks. Sci. Rep., 4. doi: 10.1038/srep07600

Figure: Networks of four different species depict variations between groups and network efficiencies

Abstract: Network optimality has been described in genes, proteins and human communicative networks. In the latter, optimality leads to the efficient transmission of information with a minimum number of connections. Whilst studies show that differences in centrality exist in animal networks with central individuals having higher fitness, network efficiency has never been studied in animal groups. Here we studied 78 groups of primates (24 species). We found that group size and neocortex ratio were correlated with network efficiency. Centralisation (whether several individuals are central in the group) and modularity (how a group is clustered) had opposing effects on network efficiency, showing that tolerant species have more efficient networks. Such network properties affecting individual fitness could be shaped by natural selection. Our results are in accordance with the social brain and cultural intelligence hypotheses, which suggest that the importance of network efficiency and information flow through social learning relates to cognitive abilities.

Wild vervet monkeys copy alternative methods for opening an artificial fruit

pdf iconvan de Waal, E., Claidière, N., & Whiten, A. (2014). Wild vervet monkeys copy alternative methods for opening an artificial fruit. Animal Cognition, 1-11. doi: 10.1007/s10071-014-0830-4

Abstract: Experimental studies of animal social learning in the wild remain rare, especially those that employ the most discriminating tests in which alternative means to complete naturalistic tasks are seeded in different groups. We applied this approach to wild vervet monkeys (Chlorocebus aethiops) using an artificial fruit (‘vervetable’) opened by either lifting a door panel or sliding it left or right. In one group, a trained model lifted the door, and in two others, the model slid it either left or right. Members of each group then watched their model before being given access to multiple baited vervetables with all opening techniques possible. Thirteen of these monkeys opened vervetables, displaying a significant tendency to use the seeded technique on their first opening and over the course of the experiment. The option preferred in these monkeys’ first successful manipulation session was also highly correlated with the proportional frequency of the option they had previously witnessed. The social learning effects thus documented go beyond mere stimulus enhancement insofar as the same door knob was grasped for either technique. Results thus suggest that through imitation, emulation or both, new foraging techniques will spread across groups of wild vervet monkeys to create incipient foraging traditions.

Cultural evolution of systematically structured behaviour in a non-human primate

Results from the experiment with picture of baboon Article headingClaidière, N., Smith, K., Kirby, S., & Fagot, J. (2014). Cultural evolution of systematically structured behaviour in a non-human primate. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281(1797). doi: 10.1098/rspb.2014.1541

© Simon Kirby and Nicolas Claidière

Abstract: Culture pervades human life and is at the origin of the success of our species. A wide range of other animals have culture too, but often in a limited form that does not complexify through the gradual accumulation of innovations. We developed a new paradigm to study cultural evolution in primates in order to better evaluate our closest relatives’ cultural capacities. Previous studies using transmission chain experimental paradigms, in which the behavioural output of one individual becomes the target behaviour for the next individual in the chain, show that cultural transmission can lead to the progressive emergence of systematically structured behaviours in humans. Inspired by this work, we combined a pattern reproduction task on touch screens with an iterated learning procedure to develop transmission chains of baboons (Papio papio). Using this procedure, we show that baboons can exhibit three fundamental aspects of human cultural evolution: a progressive increase in performance, the emergence of systematic structure and the presence of lineage specificity. Our results shed new light on human uniqueness: we share with our closest relatives essential capacities to produce human-like cultural evolution.

In the media:
BBC News: Baboons may share human ability to build on work of others
Hufftington Post: The ‘Human’ Quality We Share With Baboons
In French:
Pour la Science: La culture cumulative n’est pas le propre de l’homme
Science et Avenir: Le babouin s’améliore de génération en génération
Radio Canada: La culture cumulative n’est pas unique à l’homme

Frequency of Behavior Witnessed and Conformity in an Everyday Social Context

pdf iconClaidière, N., Bowler, M., Brookes, S., Brown, R., & Whiten, A. (2014). Frequency of Behavior Witnessed and Conformity in an Everyday Social Context. PLoS ONE, 9(6), e99874. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099874

Abstract: Conformity is thought to be an important force in human evolution because it has the potential to stabilize cultural homogeneity within groups and cultural diversity between groups. However, the effects of such conformity on cultural and biological evolution will depend much on the particular way in which individuals are influenced by the frequency of alternative behavioral options they witness. In a previous study we found that in a natural situation people displayed a tendency to be ‘linear-conformist’. When visitors to a Zoo exhibit were invited to write or draw answers to questions on cards to win a small prize and we manipulated the proportion of text versus drawings on display, we found a strong and significant effect of the proportion of text displayed on the proportion of text in the answers, a conformist effect that was largely linear with a small non-linear component. However, although this overall effect is important to understand cultural evolution, it might mask a greater diversity of behavioral responses shaped by variables such as age, sex, social environment and attention of the participants. Accordingly we performed a further study explicitly to analyze the effects of these variables, together with the quality of the information participants’ responses made available to further visitors. Results again showed a largely linear conformity effect that varied little with the variables analyzed.

How Darwinian is cultural evolution?

article headingClaidière, N., Scott-Phillips, T. C., & Sperber, D. (2014). How Darwinian is cultural evolution? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 369(1642). doi: 10.1098/rstb.2013.0368

Abstract: Darwin-inspired population thinking suggests approaching culture as a population of items of different types, whose relative frequencies may change over time. Three nested subtypes of populational models can be distinguished: evolutionary, selectional and replicative. Substantial progress has been made in the study of cultural evolution by modelling it within the selectional frame. This progress has involved idealizing away from phenomena that may be critical to an adequate understanding culture and cultural evolution, particularly the constructive aspect of the mechanisms of cultural transmission. Taking these aspects into account, we describe cultural evolution in terms of cultural attraction, which is populational and evolutionary, but only selectional under certain circumstances. As such, in order to model cultural evolution, we must not simply adjust existing replicative or selectional models, but we should rather generalize them, so that, just as replicator-based selection is one form that Darwinian selection can take, selection itself is one of several different forms that attraction can take. We present an elementary formalization of the idea of cultural attraction.

Diffusion Dynamics of Socially Learned Foraging Techniques in Squirrel Monkeys

Claidière, N., Messer, Emily J. E., Hoppitt, W., & Whiten, A. (2013). Diffusion Dynamics of Socially Learned Foraging Techniques in Squirrel Monkeys. Current Biology, 23(13), 1251-1255.

Abstract: Social network analyses [1–5] and experimental studies of social learning [6–10] have each become important domains of animal behavior research in recent years yet have remained largely separate. Here we bring them together, providing the first demonstration of how social networks may shape the diffusion of socially learned foraging techniques [11]. One technique for opening an artificial fruit was seeded in the dominant male of a group of squirrel monkeys and an alternative technique in the dominant male of a second group. We show that the two techniques spread preferentially in the groups in which they were initially seeded and that this process was influenced by monkeys’ association patterns. Eigenvector centrality predicted both the speed with which an individual would first succeed in opening the artificial fruit and the probability that they would acquire the cultural variant seeded in their group. These findings demonstrate a positive role of social networks in determining how a new foraging technique diffuses through a population.

Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial fruit in four groups of vervet monkeys

pdf icon van de Waal, E., Claidière, N., & Whiten, A. (2013). Social learning and spread of alternative means of opening an artificial fruit in four groups of vervet monkeys. Animal Behaviour, 85(1), 71-76.

Two-action experiments, in which observer individuals watch models use one of two alternative methods to achieve the same goal, have become recognized as a powerful method for studying social learning. We applied this approach to vervet monkeys, Chlorocebus aethiops, using an artificial fruit (‘vervetable’) which could be opened by either lifting a door panel on its front, or alternatively by sliding the panel to the left or right. In each of two groups a model was trained to lift the door and in two others the model slid it to either the left or right. Members of each group could then watch their model before the group was given access to multiple baited vervetables. Over the course of 100 openings we found a significant tendency for the lift and slide approaches to spread preferentially in the groups in which they were seeded. The same was true for slide left versus slide right, indicating these monkeys can attend to and learn from a fine level of detail in what others do. This effect cannot be explained by mere local enhancement since monkeys grasped a knob centred in the door to perform all techniques. Instead, imitation or emulation is implicated. No significant diminution of the tendency to adopt the seeded technique occurred among individuals learning later rather earlier in the study. Our results show that vervet monkeys have the capacity to learn from others by either emulation or imitation and what they learn has the potential to spread across their group.

Network Analysis of Social Changes

pdf icon Schel, A. M., B. Rawlings, et al. (2012). “Network Analysis of Social Changes in a Captive Chimpanzee Community Following the Successful Integration of Two Adult Groups.” American Jourmal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.22101

Chimpanzees are highly territorial and have the potential to be extremely aggressive toward unfamiliar individuals. In the wild, transfer between groups is almost exclusively completed by nulliparous females, yet in captivity there is often a need to introduce and integrate a range of individuals, including adult males. We describe the process of successfully integrating two groups of chimpanzees, each containing 11 individuals, in the Budongo Trail facility at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland’s Edinburgh Zoo. We use social network analysis to document changes in group dynamics within this population over the 16 months following integration. Aggression rates were low overall and members of the two original groups engaged in significantly fewer aggressive interactions over time. Association and grooming data indicate that relationships between members of the original groups became stronger and more affiliative with time. Despite these positive indicators the association data revealed the continued existence of two distinct subgroups, a year after integration. Our data show that when given complex space and freedom to exhibit natural fission–fusion groupings, in which the chimpanzees choose whom they wish to associate and interact with, the building of strong affiliative relationships with unfamiliar individuals is a very gradual process.

Weak or Linear Conformity not Hyper-Conformity

pdf iconClaidière N, Bowler M, Whiten A (2012) Evidence for Weak or Linear Conformity but Not for Hyper-Conformity in an Everyday Social Learning Context. PLoS ONE 7(2): e30970. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030970

Conformity is thought to be an important force in cultural evolution because it has the potential to stabilize cooperation in large groups, potentiate group selection and thus explain uniquely human behaviors. However, the effects of such conformity on cultural and biological evolution will depend much on the way individuals are influenced by the frequency of alternative behavioral options witnessed. Theoretical modeling has suggested that only what we refer to as ‘hyper-conformity’, an exaggerated tendency to perform the most frequent behavior witnessed in other individuals, is able to increase within-group homogeneity and between-group diversity, for instance. Empirically however, few experiments have addressed how the frequency of behavior witnessed affects behavior. Accordingly we performed an experiment to test for the presence of conformity in a natural situation with humans. Visitors to a Zoo exhibit were invited to write or draw answers to questions on A5 cards and potentially win a small prize. We manipulated the proportion of existing writings versus drawings visible to visitors and measured the proportion of written cards submitted. We found a strong and significant effect of the proportion of text displayed on the proportion of text in the answers, thus demonstrating social learning. We show that this effect is approximately linear, with potentially a small, weak-conformist component but no hyper-conformist one. The present experiment therefore provides evidence for linear conformity in humans in a very natural context.

The transmission of genes and culture: a questionable analogy

pdf iconClaidière, N. and J.-B. André (2012). “The Transmission of Genes and Culture: A Questionable Analogy.” Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 12-24.

See the following comments too:

  • Hallgrimsdottir, H. (2012). “The GTM Analogy: The “Organismic” Metaphor Revisited?” Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 27-29.
  • Weiss, K. (2012). “Analogy Recapitulating Homology?” Evolutionary Biology 39(1): 25-26.

Abstract: Modes of cultural transmission are, by analogy with modes of genetic transmission, ways in which cultural information is transmitted between individuals. Despite its importance across the behavioral sciences and for theories of cultural evolution, no attempts have been made, to our knowledge, to critically analyze this analogy. We here aim at such detailed comparison and show that the fundamental role of modes of transmission in biology results mainly from two properties of genetic transmission: (i) what is transmitted generally does not influence the way in which it is transmitted; (ii) there is a limited number of simple and stable modes. In culture however, modes of transmission generally lack these two fundamental properties. In particular, in culture it is often the rate of evolutionary change that determines the mode of transmission. We offer some tentative explanation regarding the origins of such a fundamental difference and we conclude that cultural transmission modes are not causal mechanisms that govern the transmission of culture but mere descriptions of the way culture happens to be transmitted at a given time in a given community. This shows the limit of the analogy between biological and cultural evolution and suggests that evolutionary models and theories differ substantially between the two domains.

Integrating the Study of Conformity and Culture in Humans and Non-human Animals

pdf icon Claidière N, Whiten A (2012) Integrating the study of conformity and culture in humans and nonhuman animals. Psychological Bulletin 138: 126-145.

Conformity, defined here by the fact that an individual displays a particular behavior because it is the most frequent they witnessed in others, has long been recognized by social psychologists as one of the main categories of social influence. Surprisingly, it is only recently that conformity has become an active topic in animal and evolutionary biology. As in any new and rapidly growing field however, definitions, hypotheses and protocols are diverse, not easy to organize in a coherent way and sometimes seriously conflict with each other. Here we pursue greater coherence by reviewing the newer literature on conformity in behavioral ecology and evolutionary biology in light of the foundational work in social psychology. We suggest that the knowledge accumulated in social psychology can be exploited by behavioral ecologists and evolutionary biologists to bring conceptual clarity to the field, avoid some experimental pitfalls and help design new and challenging experiments. In particular, we propose that the notions of ‘informational’ and ‘normative’ conformity that, until now, have not been recognized in recent literature can resolve some important controversies. In turn, research on animal culture should be of great interest to social scientists, because understanding human culture and human uniqueness requires an evolutionary analysis of our cognitive capacities and their evolutionary origins. Our review suggests excellent opportunities for social and natural scientists to join forces in building an interdisciplinary and integrative approach to the pervasive phenomenon of conformity.

The natural selection of fidelity in social learning

pdf icon Claidière, N. and Sperber, D. (2010) “The natural selection of fidelity in social learning.” Communicative and Integrative Biology, 3:4, 1-2

Social learning mechanisms are usually assumed to explain both the spread and the persistence of cultural behaviour. In a recent article, we showed that the fidelity of social learning commonly found in transmission chain experiments is not high enough to explain cultural stability. Here we want to both enrich and qualify this conclusion by looking at the case of song transmission in song birds, which can be faithful to the point of being true replication. We argue that this high fidelity results from natural selection pressure on cognitive mechanisms. This observation strengthens our main argument. Social learning mechanisms are unlikely to be faithful enough to explain cultural stability because they are generally selected not for high fidelity but for generalisation and adjustment to the individual’s needs, capacities and situation.

Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture

pdf icon Claidière, N. and D. Sperber (2010). “Imitation explains the propagation, not the stability of animal culture.” Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 277(1681): 651-659.

For acquired behaviour to count as cultural, two conditions must be met: it must propagate in a social group, and it must remain stable in the process of propagation. It is commonly claimed that imitation is the mechanism that explains both the spread of animal culture and its persistence. We review the literature on transmission chain studies in chimpanzees and other animals. We use a formal model to argue, that imitation, which may well play a major role in the propagation of animal culture, cannot be considered faithful enough to explain its stability. We show that adding to the capacity for imitation a relatively strong conformist tendency of the kind suggested by Boyd and Richerson is relevant but unlikely to be sufficient. We consider the contribution that other psychological or ecological factors might make to the persistence of animal culture observed in the wild.

A colour sorting task reveals the limits of the universalist/relativist dichotomy: colour categories can be both language specific and perceptual

Download PDFA colour sorting task reveals the limits of the universalist/relativist dichotomy: colour categories can be both language specific and perceptual. Claidière N., Jraissati Y. and Chevallier C. Journal of Cognition and Culture 2008 8(3-4): 211-233(23)

We designed a new protocol requiring French adult participants to group a large number of Munsell colour chips into three or four groups. On one, relativist, view, participants would be expected to rely on their colour lexicon in such a task. In this framework, the resulting groups should be more similar to French colour categories than to other languages categories. On another, universalist, view, participants would be expected to rely on universal features of perception. In this second framework, the resulting groups should match colour categories of three and four basic terms languages. In this work, we first collected data to build an accurate map of French colour terms categories (Experiment 1). We went on testing how native French speakers spontaneously sorted a set of randomly presented coloured chips and, in line with the relativist prediction, we found that the resulting colour groups were more similar to French colour categories than to three and four basic terms languages (Experiment 2). However, the same results were obtained in a verbal interference condition (Experiment 3), suggesting that participants rely on language specific and nevertheless perceptual, colour categories. Collectively, these results suggest that the universalist/relativist dichotomy is a too narrow one.

Defining and explaining culture

Download PDFDefining and explaining culture. Comments on Boyd and Richerson Not by genes alone. Dan Sperber and Nicolas Claidière. Biology and Philosophy 2008 23(2): 283-292.

We argue that there is a continuum of cases without any demarcation between more individual and more cultural information, and that therefore “culture” should be viewed as a property that human mental representations and practices exhibit to a varying degree rather than as a type or a subclass of these representations and practices (or of “information”). We discuss the relative role of preservative and constructive processes in transmission. We suggest a revision of Richerson and Boyd’s classification of the forces of cultural evolution.

The role of attraction in cultural evolution

Download PDFThe role of attraction in cultural evolution. Nicolas Claidière and Dan Sperber. Journal of Cognition and Culture (2007) 7: 89-111.

A critique of: On Modeling Cognition and Culture: Why cultural evolution does not require replication of representations. Joseph Henrich and Robert Boyd, Journal of Cognition and Culture, Volume 2, Number 2, 2002 , pp. 87-112

Henrich and Boyd (2002) were the first to propose a formal model of the role of attraction in cultural evolution. They came to the surprising conclusion that, when both attraction and selection are at work, final outcomes are determined by selection alone. This result is based on a determistic view of cultural attraction, different from the probabilistic view introduced in Sperber (1996). We defend this probabilistic view, show how to model it, and argue that, when both attraction and selection are at work, both affect final outcomes.

Why modelling cultural evolution is still such a challenge

Download PDFWhy Modeling Cultural Evolution Is Still Such a Challenge. Dan Sperber and Nicolas Claidière. Biological Theory 2006 1(1): 20-22.

The idea that cultural evolution exhibits variation, competition, and inheritance and therefore can be studied by adjusting the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is an attractive one. It has been argued by a number of authors (e.g., Campbell 1960; Monod 1970; Dawkins 1976; Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Boyd and Richerson 1985; Durham 1991; Aunger 2002; Mesoudi et al. 2004) and pursued in a variety of ways, some (Dawkins and memeticists) staying close to the Darwinian model, others (e.g., Boyd, Richerson, and their collaborators) being more innovative. We agree that there are relevant analogies between biological and cultural evolution and, in particular, that cultural items do exhibit variation, competition, and cumulative modification. On the other hand, we believe that a proper understanding of the mechanisms of cultural propagation drawing on the work of cognitive and social scientists (see Sperber and Hirschfeld 1999 for a review) contradicts the idea that culture exhibits inheritance in the strict sense needed for the theory of evolution by natural selection to apply straightforwardly to it. If so, it will take more than adjusting the Darwinian model to be faithful to the Darwinian inspiration.