Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Primate Bonding

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Primate Bonding

Article excerpt

Imitation, the old saying goes, is the sincerest form of flattery. It also appears to be an ancient interpersonal mechanism that promotes social bonding and presumably sets the stage for relative strangers to coalesce into groups of friends, according to a study by a team of scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and two Italian research institutions.

The study authors found that capuchin monkeys preferred the company of researchers who imitated them to that of researchers who did not imitate them. The monkeys not only spent more time with their imitators, but also preferred to engage in a simple task with them even when provided with the option of performing the same task with a nonimitator.


Duane Alexander is the Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, where the NIH portion of the study was conducted. "Researchers have known that human beings prefer the behavior of other people who subtly imitate their gestures and other affects," Alexander said. "Observing how imitation promotes bonding in primates may lead to insights in disorders in which imitation and bonding is impaired, such as certain forms of autism."

Human beings often will take on body postures, make gestures, and display the mannerisms of people they encounter, the study authors wrote. For the most part, this behavior is unconscious, with both the imitator and the person being imitated unaware of the behavior. The authors added that people who are not aware they are being imitated often feel affection and empathy for their imitators. Studies have shown that people are even more likely to help their imitators. Such imitation is thought to provide the basis by which human beings ultimately form lasting social groups.

Before the present study, however, no one had determined if nonhuman primates were also pre-disposed to bond with individuals who imitated them. …

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