Experimentally Manipulated Imitative Behavior in Rats and Pigeons
Thomas R. Zentall University of Kentucky
Historically, researchers investigating the capacity of animals to learn by imitation have considered two types of phenomena, the acquisition of "natural" behaviors such as bird song and food preferences, and the acquisition of arbitrary behaviors such as bar pressing. The acquisition of arbitrary behaviors has been viewed by some as a means of circumventing problems associated with distinguishing social elicitation of species-typical behavior from social learning ( Thorpe, 1963).
The techniques of operant conditioning provide a set of procedures that, at least in principle, should be readily applicable to the study of imitative acquisition of arbitrary behaviors by animals. However, application of operant procedures to the study of imitation has proven less straightforward than one might anticipate. Problems in controlling for nonimitative effects of social Interaction on behavior acquisition have proven particularly troublesome. In the present chapter, I am concerned with the assessment of imitative learning effects and the isolation of such effects from other social and nonsocial learning effects.
In common parlance, imitation is the performance of a novel behavior by an observing organism resulting from the observation of that behavior performed by a demonstrator. For example, a young child sees his father reading a newspaper