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In Do Animals Have Culture?, the article defines that

Cultures are those group-typical behavior patterns shared by members of a community that rely on socially learned and transmitted information.

They also say that

Neither evidence of group-typical behavior patterns nor a demonstration that the species is capable of social learning is in itself strong evidence for culture.

I understand group-typical behavior patterns does not implies culture, as the article explained

The term “culture” does not apply to inherited genetic information or the knowledge and skills that individuals acquire on their own.

However, I don't get why not "capable of social learning is in itself strong evidence for culture". If we define that culture as shared behavior patterns that acquired by social learning. How is capable of social learning not implies capable of having culture?

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    $\begingroup$ I didn't read the source, but the quote provided says social learning is not evidence of culture, whereas you are asking if social learning is evidence of capability of culture? $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Nov 10 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ I considered this, one can socially learned something but not make them to a behavior, I'm not sure if this is what they want to say here. $\endgroup$
    – Manx
    Nov 10 at 20:21
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It all really depends on your definition of "culture" (which is the main point of the entire article that you linked: that it is non-trivial to come to a concrete definition), but I think they're just saying that social learning is not itself culture by their definition.

An example might be social learning in rats: rats will observe other rats eating or smell their mouths to infer what they've eaten, and use that to guide their own behavior (Galef & Wigmore 1983). Normally, rats are very careful eaters when they encounter a new food source. Rats can't vomit and aren't able to purge what they've eaten, so they will taste a little to see how they feel afterwards. However, if they know other rats are eating a food, they can skip this step.

This behavior is definitely social learning, but is it culture? Doesn't seem like it to me, or to them. For one, this is not a "group-typical behavior pattern". It may result in some rats eating Cheetos more readily rather than tasting first, but this is a pretty temporary effect. They would have all eventually eaten the Cheetos even without the social learning aspect, it just would have taken them a bit longer. It also won't differentiate this group of rats from another: they do not become a Cheeto-eating rat clan, they're just a few rats who happen to be eating an available food. If you make Cheetos available to any other group of rats they will also be Cheeto-eating rats for as long as those are available.


Galef Jr, B. G., & Wigmore, S. W. (1983). Transfer of information concerning distant foods: a laboratory investigation of the ‘information-centre’hypothesis. Animal Behaviour, 31(3), 748-758.

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  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, in the rat eample, without such social learning every rats can also learn the thing individually. They designed a experient to make sure those social learned behabiors can't be learned asocially. I kind of get it now, thank you. $\endgroup$
    – Manx
    Nov 10 at 20:21
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Learning from the two behavioral approaches to social learning, classical (Pavlov) and operant conditioning (Skinner), are based on the accumulation of stimulus-response events. See (Lerner et al., 2018). The individual's role in influencing the learning is passive, animals with less cognitive capabilities can be conditioned. Thus, the capacity of behavioral learning does imply the capacity to make inferences (cognitive /individual component) about their shared community.

However, if you depart from the traditional behavioral definition of learning (such as cognitive approaches, etc.), these frameworks are designed to accommodate for the individuals role in contributing to the learning process. Moreover, learning is no longer the result of being a passive recipient to stimulus-response events. So in this case, learning is now also dependent on you (includes the role of the individual, like beliefs, previous experience, etc.), and is not solely dependent on the amount of times it was reinforced . The learner is more active, makes inferences and reflections about their role and relation to others, such as perception of culture.

Lerner, R. M., Lewin-Bizan, S., & Warren, A. E. A. (2011). Concepts and theories of human development. In M. H. Bornstein & M. E. Lamb (Eds.), Developmental science: An advanced textbook (pp. 3–49). Psychology Press. https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2010-22284-001

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