Ratcheting up the ratchet: on the evolution of cumulative culture.

Journal Article (Journal Article)

Some researchers have claimed that chimpanzee and human culture rest on homologous cognitive and learning mechanisms. While clearly there are some homologous mechanisms, we argue here that there are some different mechanisms at work as well. Chimpanzee cultural traditions represent behavioural biases of different populations, all within the species' existing cognitive repertoire (what we call the 'zone of latent solutions') that are generated by founder effects, individual learning and mostly product-oriented (rather than process-oriented) copying. Human culture, in contrast, has the distinctive characteristic that it accumulates modifications over time (what we call the 'ratchet effect'). This difference results from the facts that (i) human social learning is more oriented towards process than product and (ii) unique forms of human cooperation lead to active teaching, social motivations for conformity and normative sanctions against non-conformity. Together, these unique processes of social learning and cooperation lead to humans' unique form of cumulative cultural evolution.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Tennie, C; Call, J; Tomasello, M

Published Date

  • August 2009

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 364 / 1528

Start / End Page

  • 2405 - 2415

PubMed ID

  • 19620111

Pubmed Central ID

  • PMC2865079

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1471-2970

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0962-8436

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1098/rstb.2009.0052


  • eng