Animal Cognition

, Volume 8, Issue 3, pp 151–163 | Cite as

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

  • Josep Call
  • Malinda Carpenter
  • Michael Tomasello
Original Article


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.


Social learning Imitation Emulation Children Chimpanzee 



This investigation was supported in part by a grant RR-00165 from the National Center for Research Resources to the Yerkes Regional Primate Research Center. The Yerkes Center is fully accredited by the American Association of Laboratory Animal Care. We thank three anonymous referees for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Josep Call
    • 1
    • 2
  • Malinda Carpenter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael Tomasello
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany
  2. 2.Yerkes Regional Primate Research CenterEmory UniversityAtlantaUSA

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