Re: experiment

Mon, 16 Nov 1998 09:39:46 -0500 (EST)

Subject: Re: experiment
Date: Mon, 16 Nov 1998 09:39:46 -0500 (EST)

Further to the recent discussions surrounding imitation in primates
(and indeed in humans), I'm trying to set up an observation programme,
which might later actually turn to humane experimentation (subject to
ethical approval by the right committees) on orang-utan nest-building
behaviour. My local zoo has a substantial orang colony, and orangs
build nests fresh every evening, using whatever materials come to hand.
In the zoo situation they use bits of old sacking rather than branches
(they really can shred a forest).

It's generally accepted (a la Goodall) that the juvenile orangs observe
and imitate their mothers (fathers are always absent) to acquire the
technique. But does this stand up to close scrutiny? The quality of
the nest is important, its warmth, sturdiness, dryness etc can
literally be a matter of life and death for the orang, so it looks as
if this is good potential example of a system where selection would act
on nest-building behaviour. So _if_ the baby orangs really are
learning by imitation, then we might have a decent example of a model
memetic system with variation, imitation, selection.

Regarding the other experiment, the questionnaire of Cavalli-Sforza and
crew, I've been trying to think of a few other things we could do to
similar cohorts of experimental subjects. One thing which might be
interesting is to test agreement on sexual preferences. I can see that
students will talk about this endlessly, but I wonder if it might not be
a little embarrassing for them to get the same data out of their

Any ideas??


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