MONKEYS FOUND TO CONFORM TO SOCIAL NORMS
The human tendency to adopt the behaviour of others when on their home territory has been found in non-human primates.
Researchers at the University of St Andrews observed ‘striking’ fickleness in male monkeys, when it comes to copying the behaviour of others in new groups.
The study has been hailed by leading primate experts as rare experimental proof of ‘cultural transmission’ in wild primates to date.
The findings could help explain the evolution of our human desire to seek out ‘local knowledge’ when visiting a new place or culture.
The new discovery was made by Dr Erica van de Waal and Professor Andrew Whiten of the University of St Andrews, along with Christèle Borgeaud of the University of Neuchâtel.
The research is published by the journal Science. [Science, Vol 340, Issue 6131, 2013, 25/26 April]
Professor Whiten commented, “As the saying goes, ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’. Our findings suggest that a willingness to conform to what all those around you are doing when you visit a different culture is a disposition shared with other primates.”
The research was carried out by observing wild velvet monkeys in South Africa. The researchers originally set out to test how strongly wild velvet monkey infants are influenced by their mothers’ habits.
But more interestingly, they found that adult males migrating to new groups conformed quickly to the social norms of their new neighbours, whether it made sense to them or not.
Professor Whiten commented, “The males’ fickleness is certainly a striking discovery. At first sight their willingness to conform to local norms may seem a rather mindless response – but after all, it’s how we humans often behave when we visit different cultures.