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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Role of Peers in Cultural Innovation and Cultural Transmission: Evidence from the Play of Dolphin Calves

  • Author(s): Kuczaj, Stan A.
  • Makecha, Radhika
  • Trone, Marie
  • Paulos, Robin D.
  • Ramos, Joana A. A.
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY' version 4.0 license

Observations of the spontaneous play behaviors of a group of captive bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) revealed that each individual calf’s play became more complex with increasing age, suggesting that dolphin play may facilitate the ontogeny and maintenance of flexible problem solving skills. If this is so, play may have evolved to help young dolphins learn to adapt to novel situations. Novel play behaviors were more likely to be produced by dolphin calves than by adults, demonstrating that calves were the main source of innovative play behaviors in the group. Calves were also more likely to imitate novel play behaviors first produced by another dolphin, suggesting that calves contribute significantly to the spread of novel behaviors within a group. All in all, these data suggest that peers may be important catalysts for both cultural innovation and cultural transmission, and that the opportunity to interact with peers may enhance the effect play has on the emergence of flexible problem solving skills.

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