Selective Overimitation in dogs

Dogs have not only shown different kinds of social learning, from either conspecifics or humans, including do-as-I-do imitation, deferred imitation, and selective imitation, but in previous studies they have also shown an eagerness to copy causally irrelevant actions. This so-called overimitation is prevalent in humans but is totally absent in great apes. I a previous study conducted in the Clever Dog Lab a reasonable number of subjects copied the irrelevant actions from their human caregiver (Huber, Popovová, Riener, Salobir, & Cimarelli in Learning & Behavior, 46, 387–397, 2018). Dogs have not only been domesticated to live and work with us, but many companion dogs develop strong affiliative relationships with their caregiver, which are akin to the attachment bonds between human children and their mother. We therefore assumed that overimitation in dogs might be strongly motivated by social factors, such as affiliation or conformity. To test this hypothesis, we confronted dogs with the same demonstration of causally relevant and irrelevant actions as in the previous study, but this time with an unfamiliar experimenter instead of the caregiver as the demonstrator. The results strongly supported our hypothesis: Whereas half of the subjects in the previous study replicated the causally irrelevant action demonstrated by their caregiver, only very few did so when the actions were demonstrated by the experimenter. We conclude that the eagerness of dogs to learn from humans and to copy even unnecessary actions is strongly facilitated by their relationship with the particular human.

The paper 1 Selective overimitation in dogs“ by Ludwig Huber, Kaja Salobir, Roger Mundry and Giulia Cimarelli, has been published on the 23rd of January 2020 in Learning & Behavior (pages 1–11).

The experimenter Kaja Salobir demonstrates to a dog an irrelevant action (touching colour dots on the wall)
(c)Vetmeduni/Kaja Salobir
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