The ethological analysis of imitation

Authors
Citation
A. Miklosi, The ethological analysis of imitation, BIOL REV, 74(3), 1999, pp. 347-374
Citations number
142
Language
INGLESE
art.tipo
Review
Categorie Soggetti
Biology,"Experimental Biology
Journal title
BIOLOGICAL REVIEWS OF THE CAMBRIDGE PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
ISSN journal
1464-7931 → ACNP
Volume
74
Issue
3
Year of publication
1999
Pages
347 - 374
Database
ISI
SICI code
1464-7931(199908)74:3<347:TEAOI>2.0.ZU;2-9
Abstract
Theorists and experimental researchers have long debated whether animals ar e 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 as sociative nor cognitive theories are able to offer an exhaustive explanatio n of imitation in animals. An ethological approach to imitation offers a di fferent perspective. By integrating questions on function, mechanism, devel opment and evolution one can identify possible directions for future resear ch. At present, however, we are still far from developing a comprehensive t heory of imitation. A functional approach to imitation shows that, despite some evidence for im itative learning in food processing in apes, such learning has not been sho wn to be involved in the social transmission of either tool-use skills or c ommunicative 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 behaviour al homologue of human imitation. It is proposed that the ability to copy the behaviour of a companion is und er a strong genetic influence in many social species. Many important factor s have not been examined experimentally, e.g. the effect of the demonstrato r, 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.