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Social norms -- 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do' -- not just human

April 25, 2013 at 7:30 PM   |   Comments

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland, April 25 (UPI) -- Adopting the behavior of others when on their home territory is not just a human attribute, British scientists say, but has been observed in non-human primates.

The findings could help explain the evolution of human desire to seek out local knowledge -- "When in Rome, do as the Romans do -- when visiting a new place or culture.

Researchers at the University of St Andrews observing wild vervet monkeys in South Africa said they found adult males migrating to new groups conformed quickly to the social norms of their new neighbors whether it made sense to them or not.

"At first sight their willingness to conform to local norms may seem a rather mindless response -- but after all, it's how we humans often behave when we visit different cultures," researcher Andrew Whiten said. "It may make sense in nature, where the knowledge of the locals is often the best guide to what are the optimal behaviors in their environment, so copying them may actually make a lot of sense.

"Our findings suggest that a willingness to conform to what all those around you are doing when you visit a different culture is a disposition shared with other primates," Whiten said.

Leading primate experts have hailed the study as rare experimental proof of "cultural transmission" in wild primates.

Topics: St Andrews
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