Researchers from the Comparative Cognition Research Group (CCRG) recently presented their research on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Origins of Human Culture’, which aired on Tuesday 6 December.
The programme aimed to discuss what has given human culture an advantage over that of all other animal species, including our closest living relatives-the great apes. The work of the CCRG focuses on identifying differences between human and non-human ‘cultures’, with a special emphasis on tool-use.
Eva Reindl (fourth-year PhD student) works with children to observe which tool-use tasks they are capable of solving independently, without any help from others. Similarly, Elisa Bandini (third-year PhD student) provides chimpanzees, and other primates, with novel problems that they must solve without any external help.
The work of the CCRG has demonstrated that, for both humans and other great apes, there are many tool-use tasks which they are capable of inventing spontaneously, without requiring any external help. However, the crucial difference between humans and other great apes is that humans can go beyond their individual capabilities to learn and copy others - creating a unique form of culture, which has yet to be seen in other animals.
During the interview, Dr Claudio Tennie and Elisa carried out some of these experiments firstly with the presenter’s two children, and then with the chimpanzees at Twycross zoo to demonstrate how research into cultural evolution is carried out.
Listen again to this programme on BBC world service website