Imitation in Animals: History, Definition, and Interpretation of Data from the Psychological Laboratory
Bennett G. Galef Jr. McMaster University
Since the latter part of the 19th century, scientists have discussed the possibility that animals are capable of learning by imitation. Darwin ( 1871) explained difficulties in poisoning or trapping wild animals as the result of their ability "to learn caution by seeing their brethren trapped or poisoned" (p. 49). Wallace ( 1870) interpreted consistency from generation to generation in the structure of the nests of birds of the same species as the result of young observing and imitating the nest of their parents. Romanes ( 1884) treated imitation learning and subsequent biological inheritance of imitated behaviors as responsible for both continuity across generations in species-typical patterns of behavior and the perfection of instincts. During the early part of the present century, many of the major figures in the early history of experimental psychology ( Hobhouse, 1901; Kohler, 1925; Lashley, 1913; McDougall, 1924; Morgan, 1900; Thorndike, 1911; Watson, 1908), as well as any number of less well remembered behavioral scientists, studied and speculated about the process of imitation learning ( Berry, 1906, 1908; Cole, 1907; Davis, 1903; Haggarty, 1909; Kempf, 1916; Kinnaman , 1902; Porter, 1910; Sheperd, 1910, 1911, 1923; Small, 1900, 1901; Witmer, 1910 ).
In consequence, in discussing imitative learning in animals, one has to