Biased cultural transmission of a social custom in chimpanzees

Edwin J C van Leeuwen*, William Hoppitt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Cultural transmission studies in animals have predominantly focused on identifying between-group variation in tool-use techniques, while immaterial cultures remain understudied despite their potential for highlighting similarities between human and animal culture. Here, using long-term data from two chimpanzee communities, we tested whether one of chimpanzees' most enigmatic social customs-the grooming handclasp-is culturally transmitted by investigating the influence of well-documented human transmission biases on their variational preferences. After identifying differences in style preferences between the communities, we show that older and dominant individuals exert more influence over their partners' handclasp styles. Mothers were equally likely to influence their offspring's preferences as nonkin, indicating that styles are transmitted both vertically and obliquely. Last, individuals gradually converged on the group style, suggesting that conformity guides chimpanzees' handclasp preferences. Our findings show that chimpanzees' social lives are influenced by cultural transmission biases that hitherto were thought to be uniquely human.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbereade5675
Number of pages9
JournalScience advances
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2023


  • Humans
  • Animals
  • Pan troglodytes
  • Social Behavior
  • Culture
  • Grooming


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