Sunday, September 20, 2020

Older chimpanzees have more propensities to engage with others

Shifting sociality during primate ageing. Zarin P. Machanda and Alexandra G. Rosati. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. September 21 2020.

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Humans exhibit major age-related shifts in social relationships along with changes in social and emotional psychological processes that underpin these behavioural shifts. Does social ageing in non-human primates follow similar patterns, and if so, what are the ultimate evolutionary consequences of these social shifts? Here we synthesize empirical evidence for shifts in social behaviour and underlying psychological processes across species. Focusing on three elements of social behaviour and cognition that are important for humans—propensities to engage with others, the positive versus negative valence of these interactions, and capabilities to influence others, we find evidence for wide variation in the trajectories of these characteristics across primates. Based on this, we identify potential modulators of the primate social ageing process, including social organization, sex and dominance status. Finally, we discuss how comparative research can contextualize human social ageing.

Culture among animals is most likely more widespread and pervasive than commonly thought and an important avenue to local adaptation; we most likely built upon a very broad, pre-existing cultural capacity

Animal cultures: how we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Caroline Schuppli and Carel P. van Schaik. Evolutionary Human Sciences, Volume 1 2019, e2, May 9 2019.

Abstract: For humans we implicitly assume that the way we do things is the product of social learning and thus cultural. For animals, this conclusion requires proof. Here, we first review the most commonly used procedure for documenting animal culture: the method of exclusion, which charts geographic behavioral variation between populations as evidence for culture. Using published data, we show that, whereas it is an adequate proof of principle, the method of exclusion has major deficiencies when capturing cultural diversity and complexity. Therefore, we propose a new method, namely the direct counting of socially learned skills, which we apply to previously collected data on wild orangutans. This method reveals a far greater cultural repertoire among orangutans, and a different distribution of cultural elements among behavioral domains than found by the method of exclusion, as well as clear ecological correlates for most cultural elements. The widespread occurrence of social learning ability throughout the animal kingdom suggests that these conclusions also apply to many other species. Culture is most likely more widespread and pervasive than commonly thought and an important avenue to local adaptation. The complex and normative dimensions of culture seem unique to our species, but were most likely built upon a very broad, pre-existing cultural capacity that we inherited from our ancestors.


The base of the great ape culture iceberg

The orangutan example suggests that by relying on the MoE to assess cultural repertoires we have so far only discovered the tip of the great ape culture iceberg (i.e. C 1 >> CMEFigure 4). The MoE produces a biased sample of highly complex and conspicuous behaviors and dismisses a vast array of socially learned behaviors that covary with ecological factors. By counting socially learned skills, however, we are beginning to get to know the base of this iceberg. Cultural repertoires are mainly composed of basic, low-complexity subsistence skills, most of which show clear ecological correlates (e.g. knowledge of diet composition and processing techniques). Thus, a lot of (but not all) cultural variation may indeed be ecologically induced (C Ecol is a major part of C 1 and C Var).

At the same time, a systematic reliance on social learning under similar ecological conditions may very well lead to many universal cultural behavior patterns across populations. The most striking example in the orangutans for this is nest building: even though it is an orangutan universal, it takes young orangutans years of close observation and subsequent practice before they can build nests good enough to spend the night in (Schuppli et al.2016a), and socially deprived young apes will never be able to do so (Bernstein, 1962; Videan, 2006). The basic construction of nests (a rim made of intertwined long branches) is highly comparable across different orangutan populations, presumably because it is the most latent solution to the problem (Tennie et al.2009; high C U but low C Ecol).

How much culture is there in other animals?

The points discussed above are unlikely to be true only for orangutans or great apes in general but most certainly apply to all species that rely on social learning. Although numerous species, including insects, fish, birds and mammals, are now known to be capable of social learning (reviewed by Galef and Laland, 2005; Rapaport and Brown, 2008; Reader and Biro, 2010; Whiten, 2017), for most, social learning has so far only been shown in captivity, which does not elucidate to what extent species indeed use this ability in the wild (Reader and Biro, 2010; Whiten and van de Waal, 2018). Even though behavioral scientists now increasingly acknowledge the role of social learning (van Schaik and Burkart, 2011; Tomasello, 1999; van Schaik et al.2017), it is still widely treated as the rare and complex exception under the skill acquisition modes.

However, social learning can be quite simple given that many forms of social learning (e.g. enhancement or facilitation) do not require higher forms of cognition but nonetheless produce faithful behavioral copies owing to shared affordances. Furthermore, from the perspective of naïve immatures, a strong reliance on social learning is highly adaptive because social learning is less dangerous and more efficient than independent learning: it reduces the risk of getting injured or poisoned, increases learning speed by allowing the learning individual to benefit from what others have figured out before and increases the signal strength of relevant information (van Schaik and Burkart, 2011). Social learning thus allows for the fast acquisition of skills and the acquisition of more complex skills, and naïve individuals will benefit from choosing this option whenever they can. As such, we expect social learning to be most prominent in species with contact between generations, high social tolerance toward immatures, and an extended period of immaturity.

Over the last two decades it has become increasingly clear that social learning is indeed an important means of natural skill acquisition for many mammal and bird species, as evidenced in inherited dietary specializations, selective observations of skilled individuals, master apprentice interactions, effects of the presence of role models on foraging success or links between social networks and skill repertoires (Coelho et al.2015; Estes et al.2003; Griesser and Suzuki, 2016; Guinet and Bouvier, 1995; Hobaiter et al.2014; Kitowski, 2009; Krutzen et al.2005; Lonsdorf, 2006; Mann et al.2007; Matsuzawa et al.2001; Ottoni et al.2005; Rapaport and Brown, 2008; Schuppli et al.2016a). Direct observations of the spread of recently made innovations through social groups are bound to be rare but have been made in natural populations (Allen et al.2013; Hobaiter et al.2014; Kendal et al.2010). Interspecific cross-fostering experiments, be they designed or accidental, although both quite rare, have impressively demonstrated the pervasiveness of social learning of life's skills (Rowley and Chapman, 1986; Sheppard et al.2018; Slagsvold and Wiebe, 2007; Warner, 1988).

Culture is therefore likely to be pervasive in all species that pass on knowledge and skills socially. However, most of these species’ skills will show little or no geographic variation, except for the most complex skills, which are the least likely to be invented and retained. In several species, the acquisition of basic foraging skills was shown to be socially mediated: in aye-ayes (Daubentonia madagascariensis), for example, immatures learn tap-foraging – for which they even have morphological specializations – far less readily in the absence of adult role models (Krakauer, 2005).

Since social learning can be very simple, culture does not require a large brain and it is therefore unlikely to be a hallmark of cognitive complexity (Byrne et al.2004; Laland and Hoppitt, 2003), although the efficiency of cultural transmission may also favor the evolution of greater investment in brains (van Schaik and Burkart, 2011).

Remaining challenges in the animal culture debate

Detecting animal culture irrespective of geographic variation is challenging and may not always be possible. Aside from peering, social learning can also happen via observation at longer distances, socially induced encounters with environmental features and acoustic transmission. Thus, in order to be able to draw conclusions about and compare cultural repertoires across species, it is crucial to find appropriate ways to detect social learning according to the species’ main transmission mode as well as to take different transmission modes into account. The SLS will thus most likely only rarely produce integral cultural repertoires. In most cases, however, it will be able to lift a significant part of the so far hidden base of the culture iceberg above the surface.

Implications for human culture

Most elements which we nowadays naturally call the product of human culture can be found across the globe and are thus human universals. In this time of increasing connectedness and global exchange even the most complex human innovations often quickly reach the status of universals and would not be recognized as socially learned innovations by their geographic distribution. Yet everyone would agree that these innovations are an important part of our cultural repertoire.

What differentiates animal from human culture is the lack of normativity, the virtual absence of cumulative culture and the enormous diversity of human cultural elements (Laland and Galef, 2009; Whiten, 2017; Whiten and van Schaik, 2007). These three features seem to remain a hallmark of human culture and seem to be linked to the evolution of our species’ skill-intensive, technology-dependent foraging niche (van Schaik et al.2019; Laland, 2017). However, the unique human cultural constellation was built on a surprisingly broad and evolutionarily deep foundation.

Like psychology more broadly, developmental psychology has long suffered from a narrow focus on children from WEIRD societies

Cross-cultural, developmental psychology: integrating approaches and key insights. Dorsa Amir, Katherine McAuliffe. Evolution and Human Behavior, Volume 41, Issue 5, September 2020, Pages 430-444.

Abstract: Like psychology more broadly, developmental psychology has long suffered from a narrow focus on children from WEIRD societies—or those that are Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic. In this review, we discuss how developmental scientists have sought to correct this bias through two complementary approaches: one centered on detailed, ethnographic investigations of child development within populations (increasing the depth of our understanding) and one focused on larger, multi-site studies that test children on standardized tasks across populations (increasing breadth). We review key papers from each of these approaches, describe how they are currently practiced, and discuss their strengths and weaknesses. Next, we highlight exemplary papers from the adult literature that offer useful insights, namely the importance of formal modeling and a greater focus on studying variation at multiple levels of analysis. We end by outlining best practices for future waves of cross-cultural, developmental science. Overall, we argue that a more integrated perspective, combining the strengths of the breadth & depth approaches, can help better elucidate the developmental origins of human behavioral diversity.

Keywords: DevelopmentCross-cultural psychologyDevelopmental psychologyWEIRD

Daily politics is a stressor: Understandably, people frequently tried to regulate their politics-induced emotions using cognitive strategies (reappraisal and distraction); this regulation predicted greater well-being

Feinberg, Matthew, Brett Q. Ford, Sabrina Thai, Arasteh Gatchpazian, and Bethany Lassetter. 2020. “The Political Is Personal: Daily Politics as a Chronic Stressor.” PsyArXiv. September 19. doi:10.31234/

Rolf Degen's take:

Abstract: Politics and its controversies have permeated everyday life, but the daily impact of politics is largely unknown. Here, we conceptualize politics as a chronic stressor with important consequences for people’s daily lives. We used longitudinal, daily-diary methods to track U.S. participants as they experienced daily political events across two weeks (Study 1: N=198, observations=2,167) and, separately, across three weeks (Study 2: N=811, observations=12,790) to explore how daily political events permeate people’s lives and how they cope with this influence of politics. In both studies, daily political events consistently evoked negative emotions, which corresponded to worse psychological and physical well-being, but also increased motivation to take political action (e.g., volunteer, protest) aimed at changing the political system that evoked these emotions in the first place. Understandably, people frequently tried to regulate their politics-induced emotions; and successfully regulating these emotions using cognitive strategies (reappraisal and distraction) predicted greater well-being, but also weaker motivation to take action. Although people can protect themselves from the emotional impact of politics, frequently-used regulation strategies appear to come with a trade-off between well being and action. To examine whether an alternative approach to one’s emotions could avoid this trade-off, we measured emotional acceptance in Study 2 (i.e., accepting one’s emotions without trying to change them) and found that successful acceptance predicted greater daily well-being but no impairment to political action. Overall, this research highlights how politics can be a chronic stressor in people’s daily lives, underscoring the far-reaching influence politicians have beyond the formal powers endowed unto them.