Imitation - Animal Behavior

Animal Behavior

Scientists debate whether animals can truly imitate novel actions or whether imitation is uniquely human. The current controversy is partly definitional. Thorndike uses "learning to do an act from seeing it done." It has two major shortcomings: first, by using "seeing" it restricts imitation to the visual domain and excludes, e.g., vocal imitation and, second, it would also include mechanisms such as priming, contagious behavior and social facilitation, which most scientist distinguish as separate forms of observational learning. Thorpe suggested defining imitation as "the copying of a novel or otherwise improbable act or utterance, or some act for which there is clearly no instinctive tendency." This definition is favored by many scholars, though questions have been raised how strictly the term "novel" has to be interpreted and how exactly a performed act has to match the demonstration to count as a copy.

In 1952 Hayes & Hayes used the "do-as-I-do" procedure to demonstrate the imitative abilities of their trained chimpanzee "Viki." Their study was repeatedly criticized for its subjective interpretations of their subjects' responses. Replications of this study found much lower matching degrees between subjects and models. However, imitation research focusing on the copying fidelity got new momentum from a study by Voelkl and Huber. They analyzed the motion trajectories of both model and observer monkeys and found a high matching degree in their movement patterns.

Paralleling these studies, comparative psychologists provided tools or apparatuses that could be handled in different ways. Heyes and co-workers reported evidence for imitation in rats that pushed a lever in the same direction as their models, though later on they withdrew their claims due to methodological problems in their original setup. By trying to design a testing paradigm that is less arbitrary than pushing a lever to the left or to the right, Custance and co-workers introduced the "artificial fruit" paradigm, where a small object could be opened in different ways to retrieve food placed inside—not unlike a hard-shelled fruit. Using this paradigm, scientists reported evidence for imitation in monkeys and apes. There remains a problem with such tool (or apparatus) use studies: what animals might learn in such studies need not be the actual behavior patterns (i.e., the actions) that were observed. Instead they might learn about some effects in the environment (i.e., how the tool moves, or how the apparatus works). This type of observational learning, which focuses on results, not actions, has been dubbed emulation (see Emulation (observational learning)).

A article was written by Carl Zimmer ,he looked into a study being done by Derek lyons, he was focusing on human evolution, so he started to study a chimpanzee.He first started with showing the chimp how to retrieve food from a box, So they had the scientist go in a demonstrate how to retrieve the food from the box. the chimp soon caught on and did exactly what the scientist just did. They wanted to see if the chimpanzees brain functioned just like humans brain so they related this same exact study to 16 children and they did the same procedure and once the children seen how it was done, they followed the same steps.

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