Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article

Mon, 19 Oct 1998 15:28:51 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: Associative learning versus imitation - JoM Article
Date: Mon, 19 Oct 1998 15:28:51 -0400 (EDT)

Bruce wrote:

>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 agree entirely. For humans, the linguistically-mediated
encouragement (part of the environment) is essential, but maybe that's
because our behaviours are so complex. I grew up in a similar
environment to you by the sound of it, but was forbidden to touch tools
at all. Consequently I had little opportunity to imitate, and indeed
did not do so (but spent all my time reading instead - not that it did
me much good, my father made more money sawing wood than I'll ever make
in a university).

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

Imagine a chimp is hungry, has some nuts but can't crack them, is
randomly banging about with some stones (as chimps do), manages to
crack the nut, and gets reinforcement from the food obtained. Then if
the chimp is intelligent (as they are) it works out that the way to
get the food out of the nut is to crack it with the stone (chimps
actually do this). That is individual learning.

If the chimp sees another chimp do it, and then as a result of seeing
that act, attempts to replicate a similar act, then that is imitation.
The chimp need not initially realise the purpose of the act. Indeed it
need not be conscious of it at all. Imitation can be blind. The
individual learning chimp must have some reinforcement to bias the
probability that the act will re-occur, otherwise it will just
continue messing about. The imitating chimp just copies another chimp.
Of course, the nut feast then may reinforce the behaviour that has just
been imitated.

Imitation really needs more than one chimp. Individual learning can
occur in isolation, but can also occur in groups. For instance, two
chimps banging around with stones could both learn the nut cracking
trick independently without any imitation. A lot of the cases that
Goodall refers to (mentioned in my previous post) could function via
individual learning, despite their social context.


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