Thursday, 23 December 2010

Nature vs Nurture, Instinct vs Socialisation

From Eureka Science Alert :
Researchers have reported some of the first evidence that chimpanzee youngsters in the wild may tend to play differently depending on their sex, just as human children around the world do. Although both young male and female chimpanzees play with sticks, females do so more often, and they occasionally treat them like mother chimpanzees caring for their infants, according to a study in the December 21st issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

The findings suggest that the consistently greater tendency, across all cultures, for girls to play more with dolls than boys do is not just a result of sex-stereotyped socialization, the researchers say, but rather comes partly from "biological predilections."

"This is the first evidence of an animal species in the wild in which object play differs between males and females," said Richard Wrangham of Harvard University.

Earlier studies of captive monkeys had also suggested a biological influence on toy choice. When juvenile monkeys are offered sex-stereotyped human toys, females gravitate toward dolls, whereas males are more apt to play with "boys' toys" such as trucks.

The new observations come from 14 years of observation of the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Chimps are a very social group. I consider them to be intelligent creatures: people, basically. Certainly there are many similarities when in the plains rather than the forests between their culture and society and some of the tribes in New Guinea. That's not to say that the New Guinea tribes are sub-human; it's to say that chimps are people too, as much people as I am.

Apart from the Sentinelli, they are as close as we can get to what much of human society must have been like for the majority of our low-tech history. They're not my brothers and sisters: but they are distant and slightly dim cousins.

So in view of this similarity I can't say for certain that this behaviour isn't at least affected by socialisation. I'm pretty sure it's not, that it's instinctive. But I consider that the similar behaviour exhibited by Vervet monkeys is more convincing. And that the fact that the same pattern is shown by a number of related species, sometimes very distantly related, is more convincing still. It's part of who we are, not something we're taught or (if you'll pardon the expression) ape in imitation of our peers.


Catherine said...

Should try it with bonobos and see what happens. Chimps are socially patriarchal.

Anonymous said...

Have you ever seen anything on primates and gender identity?

Clearly, without a sense of self, it's impossible to talk about an internal gender identity.

However, are there cases of primates in the wild who behave differently than their observed sex and what happens to them?

I've been wondering about this and was curious if you've ever read anything about it.