The Evolution of Imitative Learning
BRUCE R. MOORE
Department of Psychology
Dalhousie University Halifax, Nova Scotia
Canada B3H 4J1
M ovement imitation can be defined as the copying of novel, noninstinctive responses in the absence of explicit reinforcement, and in situations where simpler explanations (Galef, 1988; Moore, 1992) are untenable. This chapter describes three attempts to demonstrate such imitation, studies involving three very different creatures. It then considers the paths along which avian and mammalian imitation may have evolved and summarizes evidence that these processes are not homologous. It ends by proposing an evolutionary tree that shows the possible origins of these and other forms of learning and conditioning.
Moore (1992) reported spontaneous movement imitation in a bird, a male Grey parrot, Psittacus erithacus. The animal was about one year old when the study began. It bonded to the experimenter and predictably copied his speech. But it also copied his movements. Each modeled movement had been accompanied by an identifying word or phrase. The words and movements modeled together were later mimicked together -- each movement with its verbal label. Thus, by design, the parrot announced what it was going to imitate. Whenever it said "ciao," for example, it was meant to wave goodbye.