BENNETT G. GALEF, JR.
Department of Psychology
McMaster UniversityHamilton, Ontario CanadaL8S 4K1
T hose who study social learning in animals do so because of an interest in one of two quite different issues. Psychologists working in the area usually want to know whether nonhuman animals can imitate behaviors they observe. It is assumed that any situation in which animals "from an act witnessed learn to do an act" (Thorndike, 1911) provide an opportunity both to investigate the cognitive abilities of animals and to compare the mental processes of humans with those of other animals.
Researchers whose work on social learning is part of a broader interest in animal behavior or behavioral ecology more often study social learning to understand the role of social interactions in the development of patterns of behavior that enhance the fitness of free-living animals. Consequently, those with a background in biology tend to be interested in the role of social learning in the lives of animals regardless of whether a particular instance of social learning results from imitation or from some presumably less sophisticated social-learning process (Galef, 1988 b).
This divergence in approach to the study of social learning in animals, reflected in the organization of this book, is historical as well as contemporary. There are two, distinct, century-old traditions in the study of animal social learning: the first focused on the implications of animal imitation for understanding the relationship between the cognitive capacities of humans and other animals, the second
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Publication information: Book title: Social Learning in Animals:The Roots of Culture. Contributors: Cecilia M. Heyes - Editor, Bennett G. Galef Jr. - Editor. Publisher: Academic Press. Place of publication: San Diego, CA. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 3.