Re: neonatal imitation

Wed, 21 Oct 1998 13:39:27 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: Re: neonatal imitation
Date: Wed, 21 Oct 1998 13:39:27 -0400 (EDT)

On Wed, 21 Oct 1998 08:04:54 -0500 wrote:

> It seems to me you may be hung up on a difference that doesn't make a
> difference. Who cares whether a given behavior is the result of
> "spontaneous" self-initiated imitation or the result of deliberate
> instruction? In either case the behavior gets "transmitted/replicated."

Sorry, I should have been more precise. It's the time scale of the
process that worries me. If we think that football evolves, then we
need to identify the transmission step. If footballers copy each other
on a week to week basis (and I'm trying to check this through match
analysis of the World Cup in France) then the 'generation time' (poor
metaphor, but I'm struggling to find a better word) will be short. On
the other hand, if footballers imitate/learn from their coaches at
a younger age only, the 'generation time' will be rather longer.

Now it seems that football (soccer I should say) changes quite quickly,
so that the game of soccer today is different to the game 10 years ago
in many ways which I won't bore you with (match analysis again). Now
this would imply that evolution is faster than our second alternative

I'm still groping around getting to grips with this data set, but I am
beginning to think that there may be a two-speed system. First, there
are the basics of the game, learned by schoolboys from coaches and
older players. This core of skills stays with a player throughout his
(and of course also her) life. But then on top of that it would seem
that there must be some faster transmission system of behavioural
information - otherwise the game would evolve much more slowly. But I
can't see it in my data. It's not obviously dropping out as a
statistically significant effect....

I've had much the same problem looking at student learning strategies.
Students are variable in their learning strategies, and different
learning strategies are demonstrably different in their outcomes
relative to academic success (or just staying in the system). So
variation and selection seem to be self-evidently present. But
transmission? This is proving very tricky. I've been unable to
demonstrate that students copy each other's learning styles. In fact,
there is some educational data which suggests that learning styles are
a function of personality (an educationalist friend has told me this,
but I don't yet have the reference). In particular there is much talk
of deep and surface learners, and various other (often I worry
quasi-Jungian) personality types which impinge on students' study

Now Eysenck has tried to show that personality is genetically
determined (a can of worms and not an argument I propose to get into),
but just supposing he's right, that might mean that students rarely if
ever copy each other, and educational strategy isn't perhaps really an
evolving system. If Eysenck is wrong, and personality isn't
biologically innate, I still may not be off the hook since even a
culturally acquired personality may not be readily modifiable in later
life, and thus again there will be little scope for transmission of
learning style.

So that's why I think this thread is very important, because when and
how we transfer information (whether imitative or otherwise) has
profund implications for whether we have a true evolutionary process or
not, and also how fast that process will go (ie. its 'generation


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