Neonatal imitation in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) tested with two paradigms

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Primate species differ in their imitative performance, perhaps reflecting differences in imitative capacity. The developmentally earliest form of imitation in humans, neonatal imitation, occurs in early interactions with social partners, and may be a more accurate index of innate capacity than imitation of actions on objects, which requires more cognitive ability. This study assessed imitative capacity in five neonatal chimpanzees, within a narrow age range (7–15 days of age), by testing responses to facial and vocal actions with two different test paradigms (structured and communicative). Imitation of mouth opening was found in both paradigms. In the communicative paradigm, significant agreement was found between infant actions and demonstrations. Additionally, chimpanzees matched the sequence of three actions of the TC model, but only on the second demonstration. Newborn chimpanzees matched more modeled actions in the communicative test than in the structured paradigm. These performances of chimpanzees, at birth, are in agreement with the literature, supporting a conclusion that imitative capacity is not unique to the human species. Developmental histories must be more fully considered in the cross-species study of imitation, as there is a greater degree of innate imitative capacity than previously known. Socialization practices interact with innate and developing competencies to determine the outcome of imitation tests later in life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-242
Number of pages10
JournalAnimal Cognition
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2007


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