Do Non-human Primates Have Culture?

There’s big disagreement as to answering the question, “do non-human primates have culture?”. According to McGrew’s research in Annual Review of Anthropology, “culture is what people do” and it is a concept that defines humans. In McGrew’s article, culture is everything that a man acquires from being apart of society. A major concept that separates humans from non-humans is the usage of symbolism and linguistic communication. Although language and high thinking are greatly involved in understanding what’s around us to create different cultures within the human culture, non-humans communicate in their own ways and adapt to their environments and how to act towards each other. According to McGrew’s research, culture between non-humans and humans have been based on behavior. One example of human and non-human similarities is just as humans have a hierarchical system in their culture, non-humans have hierarchical systems also. This is shown in packs of wolves, apes, and many other animals. They have social status and must be dominated by a masculine figure (ie: alpha male) in a way that humans are. The dominant male is determined by the fittest, most attractive and ideal breeder. This is similar as to what the ideal male is in human culture. They also display their preferences for what they like and the ability to learn in order to find the most efficient way to live, as showed in the image above of chimpanzee’s learning to use rocks and sticks as spears and food grinders. Non-human primates should be acknowledged for having culture. Sure, it’s different than humans but, even humans have cultural variation. Culture is adapted and altered through environment, ways of living and communication.

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2 thoughts on “Do Non-human Primates Have Culture?

  1. I agree with the idea that non-human primates have culture. I also think they have different cultures as well, especially when it comes to environmental influences. If you’d like, take a look at an an article by Dr. Robert Cook, a psychologist who likes to compare human nature with animals its called “Primates do the Cleverest Things” at this link http://www.pigeon.psy.tufts.edu/psych26/primates.htm
    The article explains how just like humans adapting to the resources they have around them for survival, Chimpanzees do the same. He touches on a similar concept of one population of Chimps using large sticks to reach high objects that they cant reach, and others using long sticks to poll volt over tall objects. I learned in my high school Anthro class that it was only fairly recent that Primatologist discovered that Chimps in one location may use the same object as another population, but for a completely different purpose. Just like cultures in humans.

  2. I think that this is a very interesting topic. I completely agree with the idea of non humans having culture as well. I recently read about the sign language studies done with chimps and was amazed by how similar they are to humans with their capacity for language, emotions and social structures. I think that it is very important for social scientists to examine cultures amongst other species. It is narrow minded for us to only attribute the concept of culture to human beings and we can actually learn a lot about ourselves from other species.

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