On the Problem of “Culture” in Animals: Critical Analysis of Modern Researches from the Point of View of Activity Theory of A.N. Leontiev’s Scientific School



The article provides an overview and critical analysis — from the point of view of activity theory of A.N. Leontiev’s scientific school — of the contemporary foreign studies of the so-called culture and “social learning” in animals. It reveals the methodological inconsistency of identifying the “behavioral traditions” in animals with human culture, based on the description of emergence and maintenance of some of the seemingly similar forms of their cultural behavior. “Culture” in animals and human culture have different origins and therefore are qualitatively different from each other, at least in four characteristics of the process of acquisition and mastering cultural skills selected by the authors of the article. This qualitative difference is primarily based on the unity of subject-object and subject-subject relationship in any activities making part of human child’s culture, let alone the activity of an adult, while the animals have no such unity in their “cultural behavior”. At the same time the article shows how new data in the field of animal psychology allow reconsidering and adjusting certain postulates of activity theory of A.N. Leontiev’s scientific school, while preserving the principle methodological foundations of this concept.

General Information

Keywords: culture in animals, behavioural traditions, social learning in animals, tool usage, Activity Theory, A.N. Leontiev’s Scientific School

Journal rubric: Problems of Cultural-Historical and Activity Psychology

Article type: scientific article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.17759/chp.2016120202

For citation: Sokolova E.E., Fedorovich E.Y. On the Problem of “Culture” in Animals: Critical Analysis of Modern Researches from the Point of View of Activity Theory of A.N. Leontiev’s Scientific School. Kul'turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya = Cultural-Historical Psychology, 2016. Vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 14–23. DOI: 10.17759/chp.2016120202. (In Russ., аbstr. in Engl.)


  1. Bakhurst D. Psikhika, mozg i obrazovanie [Elektronnyi resurs] [Mind, Brain, and Education].] Voprosy filosofii [Prob- lems of Philosophy], 2013, no. 11. Available at http://vphil.ru/ index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=851&Item id=52 (Accessed 05.04.2016).
  2. Zinchenko V.P., Meshcheryakov B.G. Sovokupnaya deyatel’nost’ kak geneticheski iskhodnaya edinitsa psikhicheskogo razvitiya [Overall activity of the genetically origi- nal unit mental development]. Psikhologicheskaya nauka i ob- razovanie [Psychological Science and Education], 2000, no. 2, pp. 86—95. (In Russ., abstr. in Engl.).
  3. Il’enkov E.V. Vseobshchee [The Universal]. Filosof- skaya entsiklopediya [Encyclopedia of Philosophy]. In 5 v. Vol. 1. Moscow: Sov. Entsiklopediya, 1960, pp. 301—304.
  4. Il’enkov E.V. Ideal’noe [The Ideal] (1962) [Elektron- nyi resurs]. Available at http://caute.ru/ilyenkov/texts/enc/ ideale.html (Accessed 05.04.2016).
  5. Il’enkov E.V. Stanovlenie lichnosti: k itogam nauch- nogo eksperimenta [Personality development: on the results of a scientific experiment]. Kommunist, 1977, no. 2, pp. 68—79.
  6. Leont’ev A.N. Problemy razvitiya psikhiki [Problems of development of the mind]. Moscow: Publ. MGU, 1981. 584 p.
  7. Marks K., Engel’s F. Ekonomichesko-filosofskie ru- kopisi 1844 goda [The economical-philosophical manuscripts 1844]. Sochineniya [The Works]. Vol. 42. Moscow: Politizdat, 1974, pp. 41—174.
  8. Novoselova S.L. Razvitie intellektual’noi osnovy deyatel’nosti primatov [Development of the intellectual ba- sis of primates’ activity]. Moscow: MPSI, Voronezh: NPO «MODEK», 2001. 288 p.
  9. Novoselova S.L. Geneticheski rannie formy myshleniya [Early genetic forms of thinking]. Moscow: MPSI; Voronezh: NPO «MODEK», 2002. 320 p.
  10. Sokolova E.E. Linii razrabotki idei L.S.Vygotskogo v Khar’kovskoi psikhologicheskoi shkole [Paths of Development of L.S. Vygotsky’s Ideas in Kharkov School of Psychology]. Kul’turno-istoricheskaya psikhologiya [Cultural-Historical Psy- chology], 2007, no. 1, pp. 3—12. (In Russ., abstr. in Engl.).
  11. El’konin D.B. Izbrannye psikhologicheskie trudy [The selected psychological writings]. Moscow: Pedagogika, 1989. 560 p.
  12. Engel’s F. Anti-Dyuring. In Marks K. (eds.) K. Marks, F. Engel’s. Sochineniya [The Works]. Vol. 20. Moscow: Gos- politizdat, 1961, pp. 1—338.
  13. Abramson J.Z; Hernandez-Lloreda V., Call J., Col- menares F. Experimental evidence for action imitation in killer whales (Orcinus orca). Animal Cognition, 2013. Vol. 16, рр. 11—22.
  14. Call J., Tomasello, M. The effects of humans on the cog- nitive development of apes. In Russon A., Bard K., Parker S.T. (eds). Reaching into thought: the mind of great apes. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996, рр. 371—403.
  15. Fragaszy D.M., Perry S. The biology of animal tradi- tions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 474 p.
  16. Galef B.G. Culture in animals? In Laland K.N., Galef B.G. (eds.) The question of animal culture. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2009, рр. 222—246.
  17. Galef B.G. Social learning and traditions in animals: ev- idence, definitions, and relationship to human culture. WIREs Cogn Sci, 2012. Vol. 3, рр. 581—592. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1196.
  18. Huffman M. A. Stone-play of Macaca fuscata in Arashi- yama B troop: transmission of a non-adaptive behavior. Journal of Human Evolution, 1984. Vol. 13, рр. 725—735.
  19. Krützen M., Mann J., Heithaus M.R., Conner R.C., Bejder L., Sherwin W.B. Cultural transmission of tool use in bottlenose dolphins. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2005. Vol. 102, no. 25, рр. 8938—8943.
  20. Laland K.N., Galef B.G. (eds.) The question of animal culture. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2009. 360 p.
  21. Laland K.N., Janik V.M. The animal cultures debate. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 2006. Vol. 21, рр. 542—547. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2006.06.005
  22. Learning&Behaviour, whole issue 32 (1), 2004. ISSN: 1543-4494 (Print)  1543-4508 (Online).
  23. McGrew W.C. Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implica- tion for Human Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. xvi + 277 p.
  24. Moll H., Tomasello M. Cooperation and human cog- nition: the Vygotskian intelligence hypothesis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2007. Vol. 362, рр. 639—648. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2006.2000.
  25. Nishida T., Wrangham, R.W., Goodall, J. Uehara, S. Local differences in plant feeding habits of chimpan- zees between the Mahale Mountains and Gombe National Park, Tanzania. Journal of Human Evolution, 1983. Vol. 12, рр. 467—480.
  26. Perry S. Social traditions and social learning in ca- puchin monkeys (Cebus). Philosophical  Transactions of  the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 2011. Vol. 366. № 1567, рр. 988—996.
  27. Perry S., Baker, M., Fedigan, L., Gros-Louis, J., Jack, K., MacKinnon, K. C., Manson J., Panger M., Pyle K., Rose L.et al. Social conventions in wild white-faced capuchin monkeys: Ev- idence for traditions in a neotropical primate. Current Anthro- pology, 2003. Vol. 44. № 2, рр. 241—268. doi:10.1086/345825.
  28. Ramsey G. Culture in humans and other animals. Biol- ogy and Philosophy, 2013. Vol. 27, рр. 457—479. doi: 10.1007/ s10539-012-9347-x.
  29. Schaik van C.P., Ancrenaz M., Brogen G., Galdikas B., Knott C., Singleton I., Suzuki A., Utam S., Merrill M. Orang- utan cultures and the evolution of material culture. Science, 2003. Vol. 299, рр. 102—105.
  30. Shettleworth S.J. Cognition, Evolution, and Behavior (Second Edition). Oxford, 2010. 720 p.
  31. Subiaul F. The imitation faculty in monkeys: Evaluat- ing its features, distribution and evolution. Journal of Anthro- pological Sciences, 2007. Vol. 85, рр. 35— 62.
  32. Tennie C., Call J., Tomasello M. Ratcheting up the ratchet: on the evolution of cumulative culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, 2009. Vol. 364, рр. 2405— 2415.
  33. Tennie C., Call J., Tomasello M. Evidence for emula- tion in chimpanzees in social settings using the floating peanut task. PLoS ONE, 2010. Vol. 5. № 5, рр. 1—9. doi: 10.1371/jour- nal.pone.0010544.
  34. Tomasello M. Do apes ape? In Heyes C.M., Galef B.G. (eds.) Social Learning in Animals: The Roots of Culture. New York: Academic Press, 1996, рр. 319—345.
  35. Tomasello M (2009) The question of chimpanzee culture, plus postscript (chimpanzee culture 2009). In Lal- and K.N., Galef B.G. (eds.) The question of animal culture. Har- vard University Press, Cambridge, 2009, рр. 198—221.
  36. Visalbergi E., Spagnoletti N., Ramos da Silva E.D., Andrade F.R.D., Ottoni E., Izar P., Fragaszy D. Distribution of potential suitable hammers and transport of hammer tools and nuts by wild capuchin monkeys. Primates, 2009. Vol. 50, рр. 95—104.
  37. Waal F.B. de, Bonnie K.E. In tune with other the social side of culture. In Laland K.N., Galef B.G. (eds.) The question of animal culture. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 2009, рр. 19—40.
  38. Whiten А. The scope of culture in chimpanzees, hu- mans and ancestral apes. Philosophical Transactions of the Roy- al Society B, 2011, Vol. 366, рр. 997—1007.
  39. Whiten A., Goodall J., McGrew W., Nishida T., Reynolds V., Sugiyama Y., Tutin C.E.G, Wrangham R.W., Boesch C. Cultures in chimpanzees. Nature, 1999. Vol. 39, рр. 687—685.
  40. Whiten A., McGuigan N., Marshall-Pescini S., Hop- per L. M. Emulation, imitation, over-imitation and the scope of culture for child and chimpanzee. Philosophical Transac- tions of the Royal Society B, 2009. Vol. 364, рр. 2417—2428. doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0069
  41. Zentall T.R. Imitation: definitions, evidence, and mech- anisms. Animal Cognition, 2006. Vol. 9, no. 4, рр. 335—353.

Information About the Authors

Elena E. Sokolova, Doctor of Psychology, Associate Professor, Department of General Psychology, Faculty of Psychology, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2239-0858, e-mail: ees-msu@mail.ru

Elena Y. Fedorovich, PhD in Psychology, Researcher, Institute for Social Sciences, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Moscow, Russia, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6596-1262, e-mail: labzoo_fedorovich@mail.ru



Total: 3148
Previous month: 24
Current month: 12


Total: 1926
Previous month: 11
Current month: 13