Imitation recognition in great apes

Daniel Haun, J. Call

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Human infants imitate not only to acquire skill, but also as a fundamental part of social interaction 1, 2 and 3. They recognise when they are being imitated by showing increased visual attention to imitators (implicit recognition) and by engaging in so-called testing behaviours (explicit recognition). Implicit recognition affords the ability to recognize structural and temporal contingencies between actions across agents, whereas explicit recognition additionally affords the ability to understand the directional impact of one's own actions on others' actions 1, 2 and 3. Imitation recognition is thought to foster understanding of social causality, intentionality in others and the formation of a concept of self as different from other 3, 4 and 5. Pigtailed macaques (Macaca nemestrina) implicitly recognize being imitated [6], but unlike chimpanzees [7], they show no sign of explicit imitation recognition. We investigated imitation recognition in 11 individuals from the four species of non-human great apes. We replicated results previously found with a chimpanzee [7] and, critically, have extended them to the other great ape species. Our results show a general prevalence of imitation recognition in all great apes and thereby demonstrate important differences between great apes and monkeys in their understanding of contingent social interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R288-R290
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 8 Apr 2008


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