Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

A comparative and evolutionary analysis of the cultural cognition of humans and other apes

Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle


Open Access permissions



The comparative and evolutionary analysis of social learning and all manner of cultural processes has become a flourishing field. Applying the ‘comparative method’ to such phenomena allows us to exploit the good fortunate we have in being able to study them in satisfying detail in our living primate relatives, using the results to reconstruct the cultural cognition of the ancestral forms we share with these species. Here I offer an overview of principal discoveries in recent years, organized through a developing scheme that targets three main dimensions of culture: the patterning of culturally transmitted traditions in time and space; the underlying social learning processes; and the particular behavioral and psychological contents of cultures. I focus on a comparison between humans, particularly children, and our closest primate relative the chimpanzee, for which we now have much the richest database of relevant observational and experimental findings. Commonalities across these sister-species can be identified in each of the three dimensions listed above and in several subcategories within them, but the comparisons also highlight the major contrasts in the nature of culture that have evolved between ourselves and closest primate relatives.


Original languageEnglish
Article numberE98
Number of pages19
JournalThe Spanish Journal of Psychology
StatePublished - 9 Jan 2017

    Research areas

  • Apes, Children, Chimpanzees, Evolution of culture, Social learning, Traditions

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. The interaction of social and perceivable causal factors in shaping ‘over-imitation’

    Burdett, E. R. R., McGuigan, N., Harrison, R. & Whiten, A. 24 Feb 2018 In : Cognitive Development. 47, p. 8-18 11 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  2. Chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) display limited behavioural flexibility when faced with a changing foraging task requiring tool use

    Harrison, R. A. & Whiten, A. 19 Feb 2018 In : PeerJ. 6, 28 p., e4366

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  3. Field experiments with wild primates reveal no consistent dominance-based bias in social learning

    Botting, J., Whiten, A., Grampp, M. & van de Waal, E. Feb 2018 In : Animal Behaviour. 136, p. 1-12 12 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  4. Innovation and social transmission in experimental micro-societies: exploring the scope of cumulative culture in young children

    McGuigan, N., Burdett, E., Burgess, V., Dean, L., Lucas, A., Vale, G. & Whiten, A. 5 Dec 2017 In : Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences. 372, 1735, 14 p., 20160425

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

  5. The development of selective copying: children's learning from an expert versus their mother

    Lucas, A. J., Burdett, E. R. R., Burgess, V., Wood, L. A., McGuigan, N., Harris, P. L. & Whiten, A. 7 Nov 2017 In : Child Development. 88, 6, p. 2026-2042 17 p.

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

Related by journal

  1. The foundations of human cooperation in teaching and imitation

    Laland, K. N. 9 Jan 2017 In : The Spanish Journal of Psychology. 19, p. 1-10 10 p., e100

    Research output: Research - peer-reviewArticle

ID: 249027615