This paper considers the complex problem of why societies in many species, with special reference to chimpanzees and humans, are socially conservative, even when this prevents apparently adaptive behaviours from being adopted by social groups. Several theories are presented, with a focus on the benefits of social cohesion and social learning, and the likelihood that a heavily conservative society will reinforce such processes while also reducing individual experimentation. The difficulties of addressing such theories empirically are considered and some suggestions for further observations that would clarify matters are put forward. Finally the relevance of chimpanzee behaviour to understanding human society is argued for.
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