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J Comp Psychol. 2003 Sep;117(3):325-36.

Do humans ape? Or do apes human? Imitation and intention in humans (Homo sapiens) and other animals.

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Department of Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA.


A. Whiten, D. M. Custance, J.-C. Gomez, P. Teixidor, and K. A. Bard (1996) tested chimpanzees' (Pan troglodytes) and human children's (Homo sapiens) skills at imitation with a 2-action test on an "artificial fruit." Chimpanzees imitated to a restricted degree; children were more thoroughly imitative. Such results prompted some to assert that the difference in imitation indicates a difference in the subjects' understanding of the intentions of the demonstrator (M. Tomasello, 1996). In this experiment, 37 adult human subjects were tested with the artificial fruit. Far from being perfect imitators, the adults were less imitative than the children. These results cast doubt on the inference from imitative performance to an ability to understand others' intentions. The results also demonstrate how any test of imitation requires a control group and attention to the level of behavioral analysis.

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