Study: Animals Learn From Neighbors

Where does this kind of information-sharing lead a species? Danchin argues it spurs the creation of a culture of sorts, which can influence the turn of evolution. By learning from each other, animals don't have to go through trial and error on their own to find the best strategies. That means the course of evolution gets a boost.

Some so-called cultures stemming from information sharing include local populations of birds that sing in particular dialects. The accents develop as females learn from each other to choose males with the local accent. The same trait has been observed in dialects of songs by South Pacific sperm whales.

But do these kinds of local traditions truly make up a culture? Evolutionary anthropologist Francisco Gil-White of the University of Pennsylvania says not quite. It takes more than one or two locally learned traits to make up a culture, he says. And, when it comes to information sharing and culture, he argues, there's no comparison between humans and other animals.

"More than any other animal, humans are obsessed with copying each other's behavior," he said. "This sets the stage for the creation of politics, science, arts and the human experience."

Gil-White argues that mimicking each other's behavior — especially the behavior of successful people like athletes and celebrities — is so important in human nature that people learn to "kiss up" to these successful models. By "kissing up" to successful people, others hope to learn more from them and imitate their successful traits.

"What evolves is a pattern of kissing up where the people who have less good information are giving favor to those who appear to have more," he said.

It doesn't stop there, he says. Successful models, meanwhile, learn to act modest and gentle in order to reap more favors from admirers and imitators. Traits like taking a bow or self-deprecating behavior, he says, are completely unique to people.

Antelopes, birds and fish may not feign modesty to win favor, but Valone says, the fact that they learn from one another, is important to understanding why they act the way they do.

"Most of the time, we focus on genetic components of animal behavior," he said. "But information sharing may be as important when animals make decisions."

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