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The evolution of imitation: what do the capacities of non-human animals tell us about the mechanisms of imitation?

By L. Huber, F. Range, B. Voelkl, A. Szucsich, Z. Viranyi, A. Miklosi

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In this paper, we review reports and present new empirical data from studies with marmosets and dogs that address the correspondence problem of imitation research. We focus on the question of how it is possible to transform visual information into matching motor acts. Here, the important issue is not the learning of a complex skill, but determining the copying fidelity of animals at different levels of behavioural organization. As a theoretical framework, we suggest a classification in terms of movement, action and result, which shows a positive relationship between the organizational level of imitation and matching degree. While the monkey studies have provided evidence of very precise copying of movements and, to a lesser degree, of behaviours, the dog studies have provided evidence of action copying and the reproduction of results. In a Do-as-I-do study, a dog attempted to reproduce the results of demonstrated object manipulations at the expense of movement details. Transitive actions were more easily replicated than intransitive ones, and familiarity of actions had a major influence. The discussion of these findings addresses the question of the neuronal mechanisms underlying imitation and whether a single mechanism is sufficient to explain the different levels of copying fidelity.

Date 2009
Publication Title Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences
Volume 364
Issue 1528
Pages 2299-2309
ISBN/ISSN 0962-8436
DOI 10.1098/rstb.2009.0060
Author Address Department of Neurobiology and Cognition Research, University of Vienna, 1090 Vienna,
Additional Language English
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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Austria
  3. Behavior and behavior mechanisms
  4. Developed countries
  5. Europe
  6. Evolution
  7. Mammals
  8. Monkeys
  9. OECD countries
  10. peer-reviewed
  11. Pets and companion animals
  12. Primates
  13. Reviews
  14. taxonomy
  1. peer-reviewed