Dr. Victoria Horner
Photo from Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary, 2003
* Chimpanzee cultures
* Chimpanzee cognition
* Social learning
* Knowledge of causal relationships
* Human comparative studies
The concept of culture in a non-human species was first introduced in 1952, when Professor Kinji Imanishi suggested that Japanese macaques may develop population specific differences as a result of social, rather than genetic variation. Since then, claims for culture have been made for a wide range of species, including birds, fish, marine mammals, rodents and non-human primates. However, of all the species studied to date, the cultural repertoire of chimpanzees remains the largest. Recent reports from observational studies of wild chimpanzees indicate that there are as many as 39 cultural behaviours that vary between populations, and which have no apparent ecological or genetic explanation. These behaviours include courtship, grooming and the use of tools.
I am particularly interested in chimpanzee tool-use, specifically how they learn to use tools by observing other members of their community. I am also interested in the degree to which chimpanzees understand how these tools work. For example, many of their tool-using cultures, such as nut-cracking and ant-fishing, involve a complex mixture of interconnected causal relationships between a tool and a goal. It seems likely that chimpanzees' understanding of these relationships will influence how they learn to use tools by observation. However, few studies have directly addresses the potential link between social learning and causal understanding.
In 2000 I began a PhD programme at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, UK, under the supervision of Prof. Andrew Whiten. I conducted a series of experiments one-on-one with wild-born chimpanzees aged between two to nine years-old at Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary Uganda. The results of these studies indicate that causal information may play an important role in chimpanzee social learning by determining the particular social learning strategy that they use and ultimately the behavioural match between the model and the observer. In contrast, comparative studies with 3- to 6-year-old human children indicate that they are more influenced to imitate the actions of the model, than to consider the causal relevance of their behaviour.
I am currently working with Prof. Whiten as a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the University of St Andrews, in collaboration with Dr. Frans de Waal at Emory University, USA, to experimentally investigate chimpanzee culture in two demographically similar captive communities.
Centre for Social Learning and Cultural Evolution
Scottish Primate Research Group
Ngamba Island Chimpanzee Sanctuary