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Animal innovation defined and operationalized

  • Grant Ramsey (a1), Meredith L. Bastian (a2) and Carel van Schaik (a3)


Innovation is a key component of most definitions of culture and intelligence. Additionally, innovations may affect a species' ecology and evolution. Nonetheless, conceptual and empirical work on innovation has only recently begun. In particular, largely because the existing operational definition (first occurrence in a population) requires long-term studies of populations, there has been no systematic study of innovation in wild animals. To facilitate such study, we have produced a new definition of innovation: Innovation is the process that generates in an individual a novel learned behavior that is not simply a consequence of social learning or environmental induction. Using this definition, we propose a new operational approach for distinguishing innovations in the field. The operational criteria employ information from the following sources: (1) the behavior's geographic and local prevalence and individual frequency; (2) properties of the behavior, such as the social role of the behavior, the context in which the behavior is exhibited, and its similarity to other behaviors; (3) changes in the occurrence of the behavior over time; and (4) knowledge of spontaneous or experimentally induced behavior in captivity. These criteria do not require long-term studies at a single site, but information from multiple populations of a species will generally be needed. These criteria are systematized into a dichotomous key that can be used to assess whether a behavior observed in the field is likely to be an innovation.



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Animal innovation defined and operationalized

  • Grant Ramsey (a1), Meredith L. Bastian (a2) and Carel van Schaik (a3)


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