Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Robert G. Grimes (
Thu, 15 Oct 1998 16:26:09 -0400

Date: Thu, 15 Oct 1998 16:26:09 -0400
From: "Robert G. Grimes" <>
Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

> Snip
> And is imitation really so rare in non-human animals? Let us toy with the
> possibility that dogs imitate their owners, in-so-far as it is possible
> given the confines of the mind-body relationship. Domestication is a
> domesticated animal's way of "imitating" cultural meaning, reinterpreted
> through the mind-body filter.
> Stephen Springette
> ______________________________________________

It is my understanding that the Blarney of Rupert Sheldrake's Morphogentic
Fields observed in animals is actually always explainable (if explainable at
all) by imitation among animals that is adequately described but which he
ignores. But we won't start on the milk bottles and the Great Teats or the
fabulous birds of the Netherlands again....

But, I cannot resist putting in a quotation from Agner Fog's "Cultural
Selection," 1996 as follows:


3.10 Cultural selection in animals
Social scientists have traditionally viewed culture as something uniquely
human. But if we define culture as a behavior pattern common to a group of
individuals and which is transmitted from individual to individual by imitation
or learning rather than by genetic inheritance, then there is no doubt that
culture can be found in animals, and there are numerous documented examples of
behavior patterns in animals which are transmitted by learning (Bonner 1980,

A touching example, which is always cited when the talk is about cultural
transmission in animals, shall not be withheld here: In 1953, a one and a half
year old japanese macaque named Imo found out that she could wash off the sand
from sweet potatoes by rinsing them in water before eating them. After four and
a half years, 18% of the adult monkeys and 79% of the juveniles in the troop
had learnt the potato washing technique by imitating Imo. In 1961, all monkeys
born later than 1950 had acquired the technique, except one. Masao Kawai has
studied the spreading pattern for the potato washing behavior and documented a
connection with the social structure. In 1956, Imo made
another invention. She found out that she could separate wheat grains from sand
by dropping them into the water so that the wheat grains would float and the
sand grains would sink. This invention has spread in a similar way, and later
the monkeys had also acquired the habit of eating fish (Kawai 1965; Watanabe
1989, 1994).

The ability to learn from conspecifics is not limited to our closest relatives
in the animal kingdom. Another famous example is about birds: Great tits have
learnt to open the top of milk bottles and get access to the cream. This skill
has arisen accidentally in a few places in Northern Europe, and from these
centers of invention the behavior has spread by imitation. The transmission by
imitation is not limited to conspecifics. Related species like blue tits have
been observed to imitate the bottle opening behavior of the great tits (Fisher
& Hinde 1949, 1951).

The song patterns of birds, the croaking of frogs, etc., are behaviors that
young animals learn from their older conspecifics. This way of transmission
leads to local dialects which may help the animals to identify relatives from
their home district (Mundinger 1980, Slater & Williams 1994).

Occasionally, it has been possible to document that the entire social
organization of a group of animals has been modified as an adaptation to
changed ecological conditions. Connie Anderson (1989) has observed a group of
baboons which during a few years changed their social organization and mating
pattern as a consequence of the presence of a predator. I will return to this
example in chapter 7.

End of quotation...

Dr. Fog kindly referenced this for me after our last discussion on this....



Bob Grimes Jacksonville, Florida

Man is not in control, but the man who knows he is not in control is more in control...

Quoth the Raven, "Nevermore....."

=============================================================== This was distributed via the memetics list associated with the Journal of Memetics - Evolutionary Models of Information Transmission For information about the journal and the list (e.g. unsubscribing) see: