The Importance of Social Interaction and Observation in the Acquisition of Communicative Competence: Possible Parallels Between Avian and Human Learning
Irene M. Pepperberg
A persistent problem in behavioral research involves understanding the processes by which humans and nonhumans acquire information about their environment and about how to interact with that environment, including other organisms. Language often mediates acquisition of such knowledge in humans. Numerous studies suggest that related, albeit less complex, communication processes similarly mediate information transfer in animals (for example: Beer, 1982; Cheney & Seyfarth, 1985; Kroodsma, 1982; S. Robinson, 1981; Snowdon, 1982; cf. Macphail , 1982, 1985). Understanding the factors that influence how organisms acquire competence in a communication code is of fundamental importance in understanding how they use this code. Information gathered from the study of one species may lead to important insights into understanding the processes in another. Such appears to be true for the study of avian and human communication, where parallels exist not only in the functions but also in the mechanisms for acquisition of communication codes ( Marier, 1970; Petrinovich, 1972; Payne, Thompson, Fiala, & Sweany, 1981), particularly with respect to the roles of observation, learning, and social interaction ( Pepperberg, 1985, 1986a).
Although researchers disagree about the extent to which human language