, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 151-163
Date: 15 Oct 2004

Copying results and copying actions in the process of social learning: chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and human children (Homo sapiens)

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Abstract

There is currently much debate about the nature of social learning in chimpanzees. The main question is whether they can copy others’ actions, as opposed to reproducing the environmental effects of these actions using their own preexisting behavioral strategies. In the current study, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and human children (Homo sapiens) were shown different demonstrations of how to open a tube—in both cases by a conspecific. In different experimental conditions, demonstrations consisted of (1) action only (the actions necessary to open the tube without actually opening it); (2) end state only (the open tube, without showing any actions); (3) both of these components (in a full demonstration); or (4) neither of these components (in a baseline condition). In the first three conditions subjects saw one of two different ways that the tube could open (break in middle; caps off ends). Subjects’ behavior in each condition was assessed for how often they opened the tube, how often they opened it in the same location as the demonstrator, and how often they copied the demonstrator’s actions or style of opening the tube. Whereas chimpanzees reproduced mainly the environmental results of the demonstrations (emulation), human children often reproduced the demonstrator’s actions (imitation). Because the procedure used was similar in many ways to the procedure that Meltzoff (Dev Psych 31:1, 1995) used to study the understanding of others’ unfulfilled intentions, the implications of these findings with regard to chimpanzees’ understanding of others’ intentions are also discussed.