Thibaud Gruber

A cognitive approach to the study of culture in great apes

I am interested in the evolution of culture in wild apes and the links between culture and cognition from an evolutionary and developmental perspective. During my PhD, I developed the “honey-trap experiment”, a field experiment proposed to several communities of chimpanzees in Uganda. Results showed that chimpanzees would attempt to extract honey from a hole drilled in a log using their cultural knowledge. In particular, the Sonso chimpanzees, who do not use sticks to acquire food in their natural environment, adapted a behaviour normally used to collect water, leaf-sponging, to extract honey from the hole. My subsequent studies and current work aim at understanding how chimpanzee cognition is influenced by their cultural knowledge. Additionally, I am interested in understanding the origin of cultural differences between communities. In great apes, I favour a dynamic model where cultural traits can appear and disappear, depending on the ecological conditions faced by a community as well as on the social structure of this group at a given time, much like our human cultural traits. Recently, I have developed an interest in human studies and aim to replicate and expend the ape studies with human children.

In addition to this work, I am also interested in animal communication and have engaged in the debate notably in respect with the evolution of language and the presence of intentionality in non-human animal communication.
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- Gruber, T., Poisot, T., Zuberbühler, K., Hoppitt, W. & Hobaiter, C. (2015) The spread of a novel behaviour in wild chimpanzees: New insights into the ape cultural mind. Communicative & Integrative Biology  

- Gruber, T.*, Zuberbühler, K., Clément, F. & van Schaik, C.P. (2015) Apes have culture but may not know that they do. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:91. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00091. pdf .  

- Hobaiter, C., Poisot, T., Zuberbühler, K., Hoppitt, W. & Gruber, T. (2014) Social network analysis shows direct evidence for social transmission of tool use in wild chimpanzees. PLOS Biology 12(9): e1001960. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001960. pdf .  

- Gruber, T. (2014) Wild born orangutans (Pongo abelii) engage in triadic interactions during play. International Journal of Primatology, 35(2), 411-424. pdf .

- Gruber, T. (2013) Historical hypotheses of chimpanzee tool use behaviour in relation to natural and human-induced changes in an East African rain forest. Revue de Primatologie, 5, document 66. doi: 10.4000/primatologie.1690. pdf .  

- Gruber, T. & Zuberbühler, K. (2013). Vocal recruitment for joint travel in wild chimpanzees. PloS ONE 8(9): e76073. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0076073 .  

- Gruber, T. (2013). Uncovering the cultural knowledge of sanctuary apes. Communicative & Integrative Biology, 6(3), e23833 - pdf  .     

- Gruber, T., Singleton, I. & van Schaik, C.P. (2012). Sumatran orangutans differ in their cultural knowledge but not in their cognitive abilities. Current Biology, 22(23), 2231-2235 - pdf .

- Gruber, T., Potts, K.B., Krupenye, C., Byrne, M.-R., Mackworth-Young, C. McGrew, W.C., Reynolds, V. & Zuberbühler, K. (2012). The influence of ecology on animal cultural behaviour: A case study of five Ugandan chimpanzee communities. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126(4):446-57 - pdf .

- Gruber, T. & Zuberbühler, K. (2012). Evolutionary origins of the human cultural mind. The Psychologist, 25(5):364-68 - pdf .

- Gruber, T., Muller, M.N., Reynolds, V., Wrangham, R.W. & Zuberbühler, K. (2011) Community-specific evaluation of tool affordances in wild chimpanzees. Scientific Reports, 1, doi:10.1038/srep00128 - pdf .

- Clay, Z., Pika, S., Gruber, T. & Zuberbühler, K. (2011) Female bonobos use copulation calls as social signals. Biology Letters, 7(4):513-6 - pdf .  

- Gruber, T., Clay, Z. & Zuberbühler, K. (2010) A comparison of bonobo and chimpanzee tool use: evidence for a female bias in the Pan lineage. Animal Behaviour, 80(6), 1023-1033 - pdf .

- Gruber, T. & Nagle, L. (2010) Territorial reactions of male Yellowhammers (Emberiza citrinella) toward a specific song structure. Journal of Ornithology, 151, 645-654 - pdf .

- Gruber, T., Reynolds, V. & Zuberbühler, K. (2010) The knowns and unknowns of chimpanzee culture. Communicative & Integrative Biology, 3(3): 221–223 - pdf .  

- Gruber, T., Muller, M.N., Strimling, P., Wrangham, R.W. & Zuberbühler, K. (2009) Wild chimpanzees rely on cultural knowledge to solve an experimental honey acquisition task. Current biology, 19(21):1806-10 - pdf .


Thibaud Gruber



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Marie Curie Fellow
Université de Neuchâtel
Institut de Biologie
Laboratoire de cognition comparée
Rue Emile-Argand 11
2000 Neuchâtel

room B025 (Batiment G)
Tel +41 32 718 30 59