Scientists Thought Only Humans Learn Complex Behaviors from Others. They Were Wrong

By Rache Nuwer for Scientific American

New studies in bees and chimps challenge the long-held assumption that only humans can learn from innovative peers
The movie 2001: A Space Odyssey famously opens with an ancient apelike human ancestor suddenly realizing that he could use large bones as weapons. Others in his group who see him quickly adopt the novel skill, leading to a frenzy of weapon wielding that the movie implies sparks all of human innovation and accomplishment.
For decades, most researchers assumed that humans were the only ones who were capable of learning new breakthrough behaviors from innovative members of their species, facilitating cultural evolution and biological success. Plenty of nonhuman species are known to learn new behaviors from other members of their group, but many researchers thought that this was restricted to behaviors that most individuals could have figured out on their own—thus putting inherent limitations on the extent to which these species’ cultures could evolve.
Now a pair of new studies contradict this idea by demonstrating that two very different species—chimpanzees and bumblebees—can learn complex behaviors by watching others…

“If this is true for animals as different as the ape and the bee,” he adds, “traditional ideas about what makes human culture different to animals are going to need some rethinking.”

Read the full article here.


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