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Trends Ecol Evol. 2008 Sep;23(9):486-93. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2008.05.008. Epub 2008 Jul 25.

Lessons from animal teaching.

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Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, School of Biology, University of St. Andrews, Bute Medical Building, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9TS, UK.


Many species are known to acquire valuable life skills and information from others, but until recently it was widely believed that animals did not actively facilitate learning in others. Teaching was regarded as a uniquely human faculty. However, recent studies suggest that teaching might be more common in animals than previously thought. Teaching is present in bees, ants, babblers, meerkats and other carnivores but is absent in chimpanzees, a bizarre taxonomic distribution that makes sense if teaching is treated as a form of altruism. Drawing on both mechanistic and functional arguments, we integrate teaching with the broader field of animal social learning, and show how this aids understanding of how and why teaching evolved, and the diversity of teaching mechanisms.

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