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Innovation and social learning: individual variation and brain evolution

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For more content, see Archives Néerlandaises de Zoologie (Vol 1-17) and Netherlands Journal of Zoology (Vol 18-52).

This paper reviews behavioural, neurological and cognitive correlates of innovation at the individual, population and species level, focusing on birds and primates. Innovation, new or modified learned behaviour not previously found in the population, is the first stage in many instances of cultural transmission and may play an important role in the lives of animals with generalist or opportunistic lifestyles. Within-species, innovation is associated with low neophobia, high neophilia, and with high social learning propensities. Indices of innovatory propensities can be calculated for taxonomic groups by counting the frequency of reports of innovation in published literature. These innovation rate data provide a useful comparative measure for studies of behavioural flexibility and cognition. Innovation rate is positively correlated with the relative size of association areas in the brain, namely the hyperstriatum ventrale and neostriatum in birds, and the neocortex and striatum in primates. Innovation rate is also positively correlated with the reported variety of tool use, as well as interspecific differences in learning. Current evidence thus suggests similar patterns of cognitive evolution in primates and birds.

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