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Teaching behaviour in social animals

Teaching behaviour in social animals

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Camille Troisi. Originally submitted for Ethology at McGill University, with lecturer Dr. David Bird in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Camille Troisi. Originally submitted for Ethology at McGill University, with lecturer Dr. David Bird in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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1Term Paper
Teaching behaviour in social animalsAbstract
eaching is an interesting behaviour that is rarely observed in the wild and only occursin some specific taxa. However, it is mostly observed in social species. The aim of this paper is toget a better understanding of this behaviour and how and why it evolved. In fact, since very fewspecies exhibit this behaviour we will also aim at understanding why it is not a commonbehaviour. Hence, we will first define teaching behaviour with an ecological perspective andreview the different hypothesis. Then we will discuss the costs and benefits as well as thevariations in individual investment. Finally we will look at the conditions that favour theevolution of teaching behaviour and survey the stronger cases for which teaching has beendescribed scientifically.
Hypothesis and Definition
Teaching is the active involvement of experienced individuals in facilitating learning bynaive conspecifics (Caro and Hauser 1992; Maestripieri 1995). In the past, it has often beenassumed that teaching was a behaviour only found in humans that was dependent on a capacityfor mental state attribution (Premack and Premack 1996). However, this view was challenged byCaro and Hauser (1992) who suggested that teaching may not require sophisticated mentalfaculties. Hence definitions now range from cognitive mechanisms (Pearson 1989; Tomasello etal. 1993; Premack and Premack 1996) to evolutionary functions (Ewer 1969; Maestripieri 1995;Caro and Hauser 1992).
2With the cognitive perspective, it is often assumed that teaching requires the awareness of theignorance of the pupils and a deliberate attempt to correct them (Pearson 1989; Cheney andSeyfarth 1990; Tomasello et al. 1993). However, evidence for the theory of mind and theattribution of mental states is very limited and contentious, even among the great apes (Heyes1998; Penn and Povinelli 2007). Therefore the study of teaching would be restricted to humans(Thornton and Raihani 2008). In fact human teaching requires skill and knowledge monitoring aswell as allowing flexible, targeted teaching across contexts (Thornton and McAuliffe 2012).However, mechanistically cases of animal teaching are totally different from human teaching,and are not reliant on similar characters (Csibra and Gergely 2006; Hoppitt et al. 2008; Fogartyet al. 2011).On the other hand, from the functional perspective, teaching is based on simple mechanismsthat do not require intentionality and attribution of mental states (Caro and Hauser 1992;Thornton and McAuliffe 2006).The difference in definitions between the cognitive and evolutionary perspectives is veryimportant for its application (Thornton and Raihani 2008). In fact, for behavioural ecologists, thedefinition needs the behaviour to be quantifiably observable, and with the cognitive definition itis difficult to recognise teaching behaviour when it happens (Thornton and Raihani 2008).Therefore, nowadays, the more commonly accepted definition used to identify teachingbehaviour is that of Caro and Hauser (1992). According to this useful operational definitionteaching has to have:1.
An individual, A, which modifies its own behaviour in the presence only of a naiveobserver, B
This behavioural modification leads to a cost for the individual A or at least, noimmediate benefit3.
Due to A’s behaviour, B acquires new knowledge or skills or acquire
s them more rapidlyor efficiently then it would have without being taughtFrom this evolutionary perspective, teaching is therefore a form of cooperative behaviourwhose function is to promote learning in other individuals with no immediate benefit to theteacher and it requires an active role of the said teacher (Galef et al. 2005; West et al 2007;Thornton and Raihani 2008; 2010).This definition allows making a difference between teaching and other types of social learning,since the teacher gains no benefit unless the pupil learns (Thornton and Raihani 2008). In fact,even if teaching meets the current definition of cooperation (West et al. 2007), it is favoured inthe teacher because it promotes the acquisition of fitness-enhancing information in the pupil,which is really unique and apart from strictly cooperation (Fogarty et al. 2011). A keycharacteristic of teaching is also that the fitness payoff is therefore response-dependent, and itinvolves interaction between the donor and the receiver of the information (Thornton andRaihani 2008).Co-evolution of teacher and pupil strategies will result in each party responding to the cues of the other (Thornton and Raihani 2008). Hence bidirectionality of the feedback is likely to arise,
and can be an additional criteria to Caro and Hauser’s (1992) definition as p
roposed by (Franksand Richardson 2006), though it is not necessary (Thornton and Raihani 2008).One other property of teaching is that the
teacher ‘s individual
fitness does not only depend onwhether they possess the teaching genotype, but also whether they possess the acquiredinformation or skill that needs to be transmitted (Fogarty et al. 2011).

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