The ethological analysis of imitation

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

52 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Theorists and experimental researchers have long debated whether animals are able to imitate. A variety of definitions of imitation have been proposed to describe this complex form of social learning. Experimental research on imitation has often been hampered by either a too loose 'anthropomorphic' approach or by too narrow 'behaviourist' definitions. At present neither associative nor cognitive theories are able to offer an exhaustive explanation of imitation in animals. An ethological approach to imitation offers a different perspective. By integrating questions on function, mechanism, development and evolution one can identify possible directions for future research. At present, however, we are still far from developing a comprehensive theory of imitation. A functional approach to imitation shows that, despite some evidence for imitative learning in food processing in apes, such learning has not been shown to be involved in the social transmission of either tool-use skills or communicative signals. Recently developed procedures offer possible ways of clarifying the role of imitation in tool use and visual communication. The role of imitation in explorative play in apes is also investigated and the available data suggest that copying during play might represent a behavioural homologue of human imitation. It is proposed that the ability to copy the behaviour of a companion is under a strong genetic influence in many social species. Many important factors have not been examined experimentally, e.g. the effect of the demonstrator, the influence of attention and memory and the ability to generalize. The potential importance of reinforcement raises the possibility that copying abilities serving divergent functions might be partly under the control of different mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-374
Number of pages28
JournalBiological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society
Volume74
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 1999

Fingerprint

Copying
Aptitude
Animals
learning
Hominidae
Pongidae
Visual communication
Food processing
Learning
Reinforcement
Food Handling
food processing
Data storage equipment
animal communication
animals
researchers
Communication
Research Personnel
Research
Direction compound

Keywords

  • Copying
  • Explorative play
  • Imitation
  • Social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)

Cite this

The ethological analysis of imitation. / Miklósi, A.

In: Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, Vol. 74, No. 3, 08.1999, p. 347-374.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

@article{71b1b18c15624e3884be97ac9fdbeb2e,
title = "The ethological analysis of imitation",
abstract = "Theorists and experimental researchers have long debated whether animals are able to imitate. A variety of definitions of imitation have been proposed to describe this complex form of social learning. Experimental research on imitation has often been hampered by either a too loose 'anthropomorphic' approach or by too narrow 'behaviourist' definitions. At present neither associative nor cognitive theories are able to offer an exhaustive explanation of imitation in animals. An ethological approach to imitation offers a different perspective. By integrating questions on function, mechanism, development and evolution one can identify possible directions for future research. At present, however, we are still far from developing a comprehensive theory of imitation. A functional approach to imitation shows that, despite some evidence for imitative learning in food processing in apes, such learning has not been shown to be involved in the social transmission of either tool-use skills or communicative signals. Recently developed procedures offer possible ways of clarifying the role of imitation in tool use and visual communication. The role of imitation in explorative play in apes is also investigated and the available data suggest that copying during play might represent a behavioural homologue of human imitation. It is proposed that the ability to copy the behaviour of a companion is under a strong genetic influence in many social species. Many important factors have not been examined experimentally, e.g. the effect of the demonstrator, the influence of attention and memory and the ability to generalize. The potential importance of reinforcement raises the possibility that copying abilities serving divergent functions might be partly under the control of different mechanisms.",
keywords = "Copying, Explorative play, Imitation, Social learning",
author = "A. Mikl{\'o}si",
year = "1999",
month = "8",
doi = "10.1017/S000632319900537X",
language = "English",
volume = "74",
pages = "347--374",
journal = "Biological Reviews",
issn = "1464-7931",
publisher = "Wiley-Blackwell",
number = "3",

}

TY - JOUR

T1 - The ethological analysis of imitation

AU - Miklósi, A.

PY - 1999/8

Y1 - 1999/8

N2 - Theorists and experimental researchers have long debated whether animals are able to imitate. A variety of definitions of imitation have been proposed to describe this complex form of social learning. Experimental research on imitation has often been hampered by either a too loose 'anthropomorphic' approach or by too narrow 'behaviourist' definitions. At present neither associative nor cognitive theories are able to offer an exhaustive explanation of imitation in animals. An ethological approach to imitation offers a different perspective. By integrating questions on function, mechanism, development and evolution one can identify possible directions for future research. At present, however, we are still far from developing a comprehensive theory of imitation. A functional approach to imitation shows that, despite some evidence for imitative learning in food processing in apes, such learning has not been shown to be involved in the social transmission of either tool-use skills or communicative signals. Recently developed procedures offer possible ways of clarifying the role of imitation in tool use and visual communication. The role of imitation in explorative play in apes is also investigated and the available data suggest that copying during play might represent a behavioural homologue of human imitation. It is proposed that the ability to copy the behaviour of a companion is under a strong genetic influence in many social species. Many important factors have not been examined experimentally, e.g. the effect of the demonstrator, the influence of attention and memory and the ability to generalize. The potential importance of reinforcement raises the possibility that copying abilities serving divergent functions might be partly under the control of different mechanisms.

AB - Theorists and experimental researchers have long debated whether animals are able to imitate. A variety of definitions of imitation have been proposed to describe this complex form of social learning. Experimental research on imitation has often been hampered by either a too loose 'anthropomorphic' approach or by too narrow 'behaviourist' definitions. At present neither associative nor cognitive theories are able to offer an exhaustive explanation of imitation in animals. An ethological approach to imitation offers a different perspective. By integrating questions on function, mechanism, development and evolution one can identify possible directions for future research. At present, however, we are still far from developing a comprehensive theory of imitation. A functional approach to imitation shows that, despite some evidence for imitative learning in food processing in apes, such learning has not been shown to be involved in the social transmission of either tool-use skills or communicative signals. Recently developed procedures offer possible ways of clarifying the role of imitation in tool use and visual communication. The role of imitation in explorative play in apes is also investigated and the available data suggest that copying during play might represent a behavioural homologue of human imitation. It is proposed that the ability to copy the behaviour of a companion is under a strong genetic influence in many social species. Many important factors have not been examined experimentally, e.g. the effect of the demonstrator, the influence of attention and memory and the ability to generalize. The potential importance of reinforcement raises the possibility that copying abilities serving divergent functions might be partly under the control of different mechanisms.

KW - Copying

KW - Explorative play

KW - Imitation

KW - Social learning

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/record.url?scp=0345425113&partnerID=8YFLogxK

UR - http://www.scopus.com/inward/citedby.url?scp=0345425113&partnerID=8YFLogxK

U2 - 10.1017/S000632319900537X

DO - 10.1017/S000632319900537X

M3 - Article

C2 - 10466254

AN - SCOPUS:0345425113

VL - 74

SP - 347

EP - 374

JO - Biological Reviews

JF - Biological Reviews

SN - 1464-7931

IS - 3

ER -