Social learning by imitation in a reptile (Pogona vitticeps)
- 2.1k Downloads
The ability to learn through imitation is thought to be the basis of cultural transmission and was long considered a distinctive characteristic of humans. There is now evidence that both mammals and birds are capable of imitation. However, nothing is known about these abilities in the third amniotic class—reptiles. Here, we use a bidirectional control procedure to show that a reptile species, the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps), is capable of social learning that cannot be explained by simple mechanisms such as local enhancement or goal emulation. Subjects in the experimental group opened a trap door to the side that had been demonstrated, while subjects in the ghost control group, who observed the door move without the intervention of a conspecific, were unsuccessful. This, together with differences in behaviour between experimental and control groups, provides compelling evidence that reptiles possess cognitive abilities that are comparable to those observed in mammals and birds and suggests that learning by imitation is likely to be based on ancient mechanisms.
KeywordsReptile Social cognition Bidirectional control procedure
We thank L. Stepniewska, V. Clarke, J. Murray, M. Gácsi for assistance and Boróka Bereczky for reliability coding. Supported by ESF Programme “The Evolution of Social Cognition”.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
The experiment reported in this paper complies with the laws of the country in which it was performed (UK).
Supplementary material 2 (AVI 1218 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (AVI 1234 kb)
Supplementary material 4 (AVI 2067 kb)
Supplementary material 5 (AVI 4082 kb)
Supplementary material 6 (AVI 6056 kb)
- Boyd R, Richerson PJ (1988) An evolutionary model of social learning: the effects of spatial and temporal variation. In: Zental TR, Galef BG Jr (eds) Social learning: psychological and biological perspectives, pp 29–48Google Scholar
- Byrne RW, Tanner JE (2006) Gestural imitation by a gorilla: evidence and nature of the capacity. Int J Psychol PsycholTher 6:215–231Google Scholar
- Herman LM (2002) Vocal, social, self-imitation by bottle- nosed dolphins. In: Dautenhahn K, Nehaniv CL (eds) Imitation in animals and artifacts. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
- Meltzoff AN (1988) The human infant as homo imitans. In: Zental TR, Galef BG Jr (eds) Social learning: psychological and biological perspectives, pp 319–341Google Scholar
- Thorndike EL (1898) Animal intelligence: an experimental study of the associative processes in animals. Psychol Rev Monogr Suppl 2:79Google Scholar
- Thorpe WH (1956) Learning and instinct in animals. Methuen, LondonGoogle Scholar
- Wilkinson A, Huber L (2012) Cold-blooded cognition: Reptilian cognitive abilities. In: Vonk J, Shackelfor TK (eds) The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Evolutionary Psychology. Oxford University Press, New Jersey, pp 129–143Google Scholar