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'Teaching and Traditions in Meerkat Societies' by Dr Alex Thornton

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Human behaviour is largely moulded and refined in society. People learn from one another, and the resulting spread of social information plays a major role in shaping the behaviour of individuals and groups. To what extent is this true of other species? In this talk, I consider the role of social information in meerkat societies. I show that information acquired from their elders plays a critical role in allowing pups to develop critical life skills and discuss how the spread of information can lead to local traditions in different meerkat groups.

Dr. Thornton’s biography:

I grew up in Mexico City and later moved to the UK and studied biology at Oxford. Following my PhD at the Department of Zoology in Cambridge I took up a Drapers’ Company Research Fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge and then a BBSRC Fellowship at the Department of Experimental Psychology. My research uses observational and experimental techniques to investigate the development and evolution of cognitive abilities and the role of social learning in shaping the behaviour of individuals and groups in natural animal populations. This work has led me to spend much of my career with meerkats in the Kalahari Desert, with an occasional outing to study banded mongooses in Uganda. More recently, I have begun a programme of research closer to home, investigating culture and cognition in jackdaws in the Cambridgeshire countryside.

This talk is part of the Pembroke Papers, Pembroke College series.

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