Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Cultures in chimpanzees

Abstract

As an increasing number of field studies of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) have achieved long-term status across Africa, differences in the behavioural repertoires described have become apparent that suggest there is significant cultural variation1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Here we present a systematic synthesis of this information from the seven most long-term studies, which together have accumulated 151 years of chimpanzee observation. This comprehensive analysis reveals patterns of variation that are far more extensive than have previously been documented for any animal species except humans8,9,10,11. We find that 39 different behaviour patterns, including tool usage, grooming and courtship behaviours, are customary or habitual in some communities but are absent in others where ecological explanations have been discounted. Among mammalian and avian species, cultural variation has previously been identified only for single behaviour patterns, such as the local dialects of song-birds12,13. The extensive, multiple variations now documented for chimpanzees are thus without parallel. Moreover, the combined repertoire of these behaviour patterns in each chimpanzee community is itself highly distinctive, a phenomenon characteristic of human cultures14 but previously unrecognised in non-human species.

Your institute does not have access to this article

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: Distribution of behaviour patterns from band D in Table 1across six African study sites.

References

  1. McGrew, W. C. & Tutin, C. E. G. Evidence for a social custom in wild chimpanzees? Man 13, 234–251 (1978).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Goodall, J. The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior(Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1986).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Nishida, T. The Chimpanzees of the Mahale Mountains: Sexual and Life History Strategies(Tokyo Univ. Press, Tokyo, 1990).

    Google Scholar 

  4. McGrew, W. C. Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implications for Human Evolution(Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1992).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  5. Sugiyama, Y. in The Use of Tools by Human and Non-human Primates(eds Berthelet, A. & Chavaillon, J.) 175–187 (Clarendon, Oxford, 1993).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Wrangham, R. W., McGrew, W. C., de Waal, F. B. M. & Heltne, P. G. (eds) Chimpanzee Cultures(Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1994).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Boesch, C. The emergence of cultures among wild chimpanzees. Proc. Br. Acad. 88, 251–268 (1996).

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bonner, J. T. The Evolution of Culture in Animals(Princeton Univ. Press, New Jersey, 1980).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Mundinger, P. C. Animal cultures and a general theory of cultural evolution. Ethol. Sociobiol. 1, 183–223 (1980).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Lefebvre, L. & Palameta, B. in Social Learning: Psychological and Biological Perspectives(eds Zentall, T. & Galef, B. G. Jr) 141–164 (Erlbaum, Hillsdale, New Jersey, 1988).

    Google Scholar 

  11. McGrew, W. C. Culture in non-human primates? Annu. Rev. Anthropol. 27, 301–328 (1998).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Marler, P. & Tamura, M. Song ‘dialects’ in three populations of white-crowned sparrows. Science 146, 1483–1486 (1964).

    ADS  CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Catchpole, C. K. & Slater, P. J. B. Bird Song: Themes and Variations(Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 1995).

    Google Scholar 

  14. Murdock, G. P. Ethnographic Atlas(Univ. Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1967).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Kroeber, A. L. & Kluckhohn, C. Culture: A Critical Review of Concepts and Definitions(Random House, New York, 1963).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Bloch, M. Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man 26, 183–198 (1991).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Nishida, T. in Primate Societies(eds Smuts, B. B., Cheney, D. L., Seyfarth, R. M., Wrangham, R. W. & Struhsaker, T. T.) 462–474 (Univ. Chicago Press, Chicago, 1987).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Whiten, A. & Ham, R. On the nature of imitation in the animal kingdom: reappraisal of a century of research. Adv. Study Behav. 21, 239–283 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Imanishi, K. Identification: A process of enculturation in the subhuman society of Macaca fuscata . Primates 1, 1–29 (1957).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Huffman, M. in Social Learning in Animals: The Roots of Culture(eds Heyes, C. M. & Galef, B. G.) 267–289 (Academic Press, London, 1996).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  21. Boesch, C., Marchesi, P., Marchesi, N., Fruth, B. & Joulian, F. Is nut cracking in wild chimpanzees a cultural behaviour? J. Hum. Evol. 26, 325–338 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Galef, B. G. J The question of animal culture. Hum. Nature 3, 157–178 (1992).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Tomasello, M., Kruger, A. C. & Ratner, H. H. Cultural learning. Behav. Brain Sci. 16, 495–552 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Whiten, A., Custance, D. M., Gomez, J.-C., Teixidor, P. & Bard, K. A. Imitative learning of artificial fruit-processing in children (Homo sapiens) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). J. Comp. Psychol. 110, 3–14 (1996).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Whiten, A. Imitation of the sequential structure of actions by chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). J. Comp. Psychol. 112, 270–281 (1998).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Spence, K. W. Experimental studies of learning and the mental processes in infra-human primates. Psychol. Bull. 34, 806–850 (1937).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Sumita, K., Kitahara-Frisch, J. & Norikoshi, K. The acquisition of stone tool use in captive chimpanzees. Primates 26, 168–181 (1985).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Tomasello, M., Davis, Dasilv, M., Dasilv M. Camak, L. & Bard, K. Observational learning of tool-use by young chimpanzees. Hum. Evol. 2, 175–183 (1987).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Paquett, D. Discovering and learning tool-use for fishing honey by captive chimpanzees. Hum. Evol. 7, 17–30 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Nagell, K., Olguin, K. & Tomasello, M. Processes of social learning in the tool use of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens). J. Comp. Psychol. 107, 174–186 (1993).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

We thank T. Matsuzawa, G. Yamakoshi, H. Boesch, D. A. Collins, S. Kamenya, H.Matama, H. Mkono, E. Mpongo, J. Salala, M. Huffman, M. Kasagula, R. Nyundo, S. Uehara, K.Arnold, C. Assersohn, K. Fawcett, J. Kakura, Z. Kiwede, G. Muhumuza, N. Newton-Fisher, P.Pebsworth, E. Stokes, J. Tinka, A. Arcadi, C. Katongole, G. Isabiriye-Basuta, F. Mugurusi, M. Muller and M. Wilson for contributions to the database; D. A. Collins, D. I. Perrett and P. J. B. Slater for advice on the manuscript; and S. Smart for the graphics of Fig. 1.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

An extended graphical database (unrefereed) of this material is also available (http://chimp.st-and.ac.uk/cultures). (DOC 25 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Whiten, A., Goodall, J., McGrew, W. et al. Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature 399, 682–685 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/21415

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/21415

Further reading

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing