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A Guttman-Based Approach to Identifying Cumulativeness Applied to Chimpanzee Culture


Human culture appears to build on itself-that is, to be to some extent cumulative. Whether this property is shared by culture in the common chimpanzee is controversial. The question previously has been approached, qualitatively (and inconclusively), by debating whether any chimpanzee culture traits have resulted from individuals building on one another's work ("ratcheting"). The fact that the chimpanzees at different sites have distinctive repertoires of traits affords a different avenue of approach: determining whether the traits accumulate, site to site, in a structure more orderly than would be expected by chance. Here we use Guttman scalograms and a gamma-type statistic to bring the first quantitative evidence to bear on the question. We show that while traditional methods provide apparent support for a cumulative tendency, our more rigorous methods do not. This may be because cumulativeness requires human-like social-learning mechanisms, or because culture generally is not sufficiently unidimensional to scale well. A cumulative tendency would be expected, however, under rather weak assumptions; therefore it seems more likely that chimpanzee culture is cumulative, but this data set is simply too small to evidence it. © 2012 SAGE Publications.

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