Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Mario Vaneechoutte (
Mon, 19 Oct 1998 15:54:05 +0200

Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 15:54:05 +0200
From: Mario Vaneechoutte <>
Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article


> On Mon, 19 Oct 1998 22:07:26 +0000 Bruce Howlett
> <> wrote:
> >
> > I simultaneously laugh and groan when I hear you suggest that the
> > intellectually challenged bird is considered the only bona fide imitator
> > in the animal kingdom.
> But nevertheless, that is the case. Quite how birdbrains manage to
> imitate, is, I agree a bit of a puzzle (or a lot of a puzzle) but
> apart from the largely anecdotal evidence in primates, birdsong
> imitation is the only real model system we have for imitation outside
> of humans.

The imitation of birds is not all that puzzling, I believe. We are dealing
with two kinds of imitation here. Birds imitate sounds. And I think many
mammals and other animals are good in that as well. And that is what we are
good at, in the first place, I'd say.

What we want from animals in this context is to imitate visually observable

Let us agree that humans are much better in this. Then the question boils down
to: from what age on do babies imitate visually observable events?
Or is this imitation somehow instructed by parents? Maybe babies are rewarded
when doing a gesture which looks like the parent gesture. Reward in a way we
cannot reward nonhuman animals, simply because we are different species, or
simply because we have symbolic language. In other words: is this imitation of
visual signals as is possible by human beings not itself also the result of
some kind of instructions?


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