Overimitation in dogs, 09.01.2019

Common school of thought holds that over-imitation – a special kind of social learning – is a unique human ability. Indeed, it is completely lacking in non-human primates, like chimpanzees and bonobos. A recent study of the unit of comparative cognition of the Messerli Research Institute have revealed a surprising fact; pet dogs do not only copy goal-directed human actions but some do also imitate non-functional, irrational acts – in about the same way as human children. In humans, this peculiar form of imitation is strongly influenced by social factors like attachment and conformity. The same appears to be the case in dogs; overimitation disappears if an unfamiliar experimenter rather than the human caregiver is the demonstrator.

The paper "Would dogs copy irrelevant actions from their human caregiver?", co-authored by Ludwig Huber, Natálie Popovová, Sabine Riener, Kaja Salobir and Giulia Cimarelli, has been published in Learning & Behavior (Vol 46(4), 387-397). This article was awarded the Clifford T. Morgan Best Article Award of the Psychonomic Society. Ludwig Huber received the award from the hands of the president of the Psychonomic Society, John Dunlosky, during the annual conference of the society in New Orleans (USA) on 17 Nov 2018.

Link to the paper: link.springer.com/article/10.3758/s13420-018-0336-z 1

Photo: George Long
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Photo: Messerli Research Institute
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