Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Bruce Howlett (
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 23:48:03 +0000

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 23:48:03 +0000
From: Bruce Howlett <>
Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article


BMSDGATH wrote:  (snip)

“For it seems almost certain that, although the ability to manipulate
objects is innate in a chimpanzee, the actual tool-using patterns practiced
by the Gombe Stream chimpanzees are learned by the infants from their elders.
We saw one very good example of this.  It happened when a female had
diarrhea: she picked a large handful of leaves and wiped her messy bottom.
Her two-year old infant watched her closely and then twice picked leaves
and wiped her own clean bottom.”

Now, that’s more like it.  Pity it’s the only example of that quality.
In summary, I see no reason to assume that imitation plays any large role
in the ‘culture’ of chimps.  The ‘actual tool-using patterns practiced by
the Gombe Stream chimpanzees’ may simply be a reflection of what is
available in the stream environment, and their use is a product of
individual reinforced learning within that environment.


 Let me assure you that humans are not exactly crash hot when it comes to "actual tool using patterns" either.  What you are talking about comes into the realm of "skills training" as opposed to "education".  In previous careers, having been a Builder as well as a Technology and Industrial Arts Teacher, I feel I can speak with some authority on this subject.  In a school of some 500 students, there would be 10 to 15 students with good manual dexterity and aptitude for using tools.  Most students could achieve various levels of skills given time and practice and repetitive instruction, often needing to feel by literally hands over hands demonstration, how to use a tool.  I suspect that the students who exhibited the "good manual dexterity and aptitude" were from home environments where early experience and encouragement in using tools was the norm.  I grew up in a family full of trades people and by the age of 6 could drive a 4 inch nail with only 2 or 3 blows.  Little wonder I took up Carpentry after my Army service.

I would suggest that what is "available" in any environment is a critical factor in learning, and if you would care to explain the difference between "individual reinforced learning" and "imitation" I would be most appreciative.



Bruce Howlett.  B.A.L.,  J.P.
Researching:  Management of Change in Organizations:  The Culture Concept
at the University of New England
Armidale NSW 2350

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