, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 175–188 | Cite as

Ritual Mimicry: A Path to Concept Comprehension

  • Pauline DelahayeEmail author


Mimicry in the animal kingdom mostly consists of two major types: by appearance or by behaviour. Although these are not the only ones, they will be the main focus of this article. We will develop two purposes of behavioural mimicry in animal death rituals (what we have called “ritual mimicry”): how it helps understanding a complex concept, and how it teaches to manage intense emotions. We will first show how ritual mimicry is a logical step in the evolution of appearance mimicry and why it can be a major advantage for the species that are able to use it. We will give a brief explanation of the importance of the notion of semiosis in behavioural mimicry. In a few words, we will also describe what a ritual is, how to recognize it and what its different features are. Then, for the first purpose, we will show how understanding what death is, or at least, what it is not – not sleep, nor illness – is difficult. This process starts through mimicry, which raises awareness in the young that a major event is occurring. For the second purpose, we will show how mimicry helps the young learn ritual behaviours and gestures which help distressed adults with managing their emotions in these situations. As such, mimicry is also a way to learn this emotional behaviour management, enabling the young – and future adult – to be less distressed when confronted with loss.


Biosemiotics Emotions Ritual Conceptual comprehension Behavioural mimicry 



Paris-Sorbonne University and the STIH – Sens, Texte, Informatique, Histoire (Meaning, Text, Data processing and History) Laboratory. Thomas Broden, Georges Chapouthier and Timo Maran, for bringing part of the references to my acknowledgement. Many thanks to Pierre Ghislain for his review of the translation of this article.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that she has no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Paris Sorbonne University (Paris 4)ParisFrance

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