The zone of latent solutions and its relevance to understanding ape cultures

Biology and Philosophy 35 (5):1-42 (2020)
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The zone of latent solutions hypothesis provides an alternative approach to explaining cultural patterns in primates and many other animals. According to the ZLS hypothesis, non-human great ape cultures consist largely or solely of latent solutions. The current competing hypothesis for ape culture argues instead that at least some of their behavioural or artefact forms are copied through specific social learning mechanisms and that their forms may depend on copying. In contrast, the ape ZLS hypothesis does not require these forms to be copied. Instead, it suggests that several social learning mechanisms help determine the frequency of these behaviours and artefacts within connected individuals. The ZLS hypothesis thus suggests that increases and stabilisations of a particular behaviour’s or artefact’s frequency can derive from socially-mediated form reinnovations. Therefore, and while genes and ecology play important roles as well, according to the ape ZLS hypothesis, apes typically acquire the forms of their behaviours and artefacts individually, but are usually socially induced to do so. The ZLS approach is often criticized—perhaps also because it challenges the current null hypothesis, which instead assumes a requirement of form-copying social learning mechanisms to explain many ape behavioural forms. However, as the ZLS hypothesis is a new approach, with less accumulated literature compared to the current null hypothesis, some confusion is to be expected. Here, we clarify the ZLS approach—also in relation to other competing hypotheses—and address misconceptions and objections. We believe that these clarifications will provide researchers with a coherent theoretical approach and an experimental methodology to examine the necessity of form-copying variants of social learning in apes, humans and other species.



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