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Spontaneous cross-species imitation in interaction between chimpanzees and zoo visitors

Persson, Tomas LU ; Sauciuc, Gabriela-Alina LU and Madsen, Elainie LU (2017) In Primates
Abstract
Imitation is a cornerstone in human development, serving both a cognitive function (e.g. in the acquisition and transmission of skills and knowledge) and a social-communicative function, whereby the imitation of familiar actions serves to maintain social interaction and promote prosociality. In nonhuman primates, this latter function is poorly understood, or even claimed to be absent, yet the evidence is gathered mainly from learning experiments - a context which is less adequate for investigating communicative imitation. In this observational study, we documented interactions between chimpanzees and zoo visitors and found that the two species imitated each other at a similar rate, corresponding to 10% of all produced actions. Imitation... (More)
Imitation is a cornerstone in human development, serving both a cognitive function (e.g. in the acquisition and transmission of skills and knowledge) and a social-communicative function, whereby the imitation of familiar actions serves to maintain social interaction and promote prosociality. In nonhuman primates, this latter function is poorly understood, or even claimed to be absent, yet the evidence is gathered mainly from learning experiments - a context which is less adequate for investigating communicative imitation. In this observational study, we documented interactions between chimpanzees and zoo visitors and found that the two species imitated each other at a similar rate, corresponding to 10% of all produced actions. Imitation appeared to accomplish a social-communicative function, as cross-species interactions that contained imitative actions lasted significantly longer than interactions without imitation. In both species, physical proximity promoted cross-species imitation. Overall, imitative precision was higher among visitors than among chimpanzees, but this difference vanished in proximity contexts, i.e. in the indoor environment. Four of five chimpanzees produced imitations; three of them exhibited comparable imitation rates, despite large individual differences in level of cross-species interactivity. We also found that chimpanzees evidenced imitation recognition, yet only when visitors imitated their actions (as opposed to postures). Imitation recognition was expressed by returned imitation in 36% of the cases, and all four imitating chimpanzees engaged in so-called imitative games. Previously regarded as unique to early human socialization, such games testify to the rewarding nature of imitative interaction and serve to maintain social engagement. Contrary to what it has been suggested, the results presented here indicate that nonhuman apes exhibit spontaneous imitation that can accomplish a communicative function. The study raises a number of novel questions for imitation research and highlights the imitation of familiar behaviors as a relevant – yet thus far understudied - research topic.
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author
organization
publishing date
type
Contribution to journal
publication status
epub
subject
keywords
communication, play, social cognition, prosociality
in
Primates
pages
11 pages
publisher
Springer
external identifiers
  • scopus:85027504426
ISSN
0032-8332
DOI
10.1007/s10329-017-0624-9
language
English
LU publication?
yes
id
ffa51ced-b5e1-4cde-b73b-2554e89004a6
date added to LUP
2016-06-30 05:40:48
date last changed
2017-09-10 05:07:36
@article{ffa51ced-b5e1-4cde-b73b-2554e89004a6,
  abstract     = {Imitation is a cornerstone in human development, serving both a cognitive function (e.g. in the acquisition and transmission of skills and knowledge) and a social-communicative function, whereby the imitation of familiar actions serves to maintain social interaction and promote prosociality. In nonhuman primates, this latter function is poorly understood, or even claimed to be absent, yet the evidence is gathered mainly from learning experiments - a context which is less adequate for investigating communicative imitation. In this observational study, we documented interactions between chimpanzees and zoo visitors and found that the two species imitated each other at a similar rate, corresponding to 10% of all produced actions. Imitation appeared to accomplish a social-communicative function, as cross-species interactions that contained imitative actions lasted significantly longer than interactions without imitation. In both species, physical proximity promoted cross-species imitation. Overall, imitative precision was higher among visitors than among chimpanzees, but this difference vanished in proximity contexts, i.e. in the indoor environment. Four of five chimpanzees produced imitations; three of them exhibited comparable imitation rates, despite large individual differences in level of cross-species interactivity. We also found that chimpanzees evidenced imitation recognition, yet only when visitors imitated their actions (as opposed to postures). Imitation recognition was expressed by returned imitation in 36% of the cases, and all four imitating chimpanzees engaged in so-called imitative games. Previously regarded as unique to early human socialization, such games testify to the rewarding nature of imitative interaction and serve to maintain social engagement. Contrary to what it has been suggested, the results presented here indicate that nonhuman apes exhibit spontaneous imitation that can accomplish a communicative function. The study raises a number of novel questions for imitation research and highlights the imitation of familiar behaviors as a relevant – yet thus far understudied - research topic. <br/>},
  author       = {Persson, Tomas and Sauciuc, Gabriela-Alina and Madsen, Elainie},
  issn         = {0032-8332},
  keyword      = { communication,play,social cognition,prosociality},
  language     = {eng},
  month        = {08},
  pages        = {11},
  publisher    = {Springer},
  series       = {Primates},
  title        = {Spontaneous cross-species imitation in interaction between chimpanzees and zoo visitors},
  url          = {http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10329-017-0624-9},
  year         = {2017},
}