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Untrained Chimpanzees <em>(Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii)</em> Fail to Imitate Novel Actions

By Claudio Tennie (144100), Josep Call (109947) and Michael Tomasello (31692)

Abstract

<div><h3>Background</h3><p>Social learning research in apes has focused on social learning in the technical (problem solving) domain - an approach that confounds action and physical information. Successful subjects in such studies may have been able to perform target actions not as a result of imitation learning but because they had learnt some technical aspect, for example, copying the movements of an apparatus (i.e., different forms of emulation learning).</p> <h3>Methods</h3><p>Here we present data on action copying by non-enculturated and untrained chimpanzees when physical information is removed from demonstrations. To date, only one such study (on gesture copying in a begging context) has been conducted – with negative results. Here we have improved this methodology and have also added non-begging test situations (a possible confound of the earlier study). Both familiar and novel actions were used as targets. Prior to testing, a trained conspecific demonstrator was rewarded for performing target actions in view of observers. All but one of the tested chimpanzees already failed to copy familiar actions. When retested with a novel target action, also the previously successful subject failed to copy – and he did so across several contexts.</p> <h3>Conclusion</h3><p>Chimpanzees do not seem to copy novel actions, and only some ever copy familiar ones. Due to our having tested only non-enculturated and untrained chimpanzees, the performance of our test subjects speak more than most other studies of the general (dis-)ability of chimpanzees to copy actions, and especially novel actions.</p> </div

Topics: Neuroscience, Evolutionary Biology, untrained, chimpanzees, troglodytes, imitate, actions
Year: 2012
DOI identifier: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041548
OAI identifier: oai:figshare.com:article/121492
Provided by: FigShare
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