Poster Title

Complex Imitation in Pigeons

Presenter Information

Nam Nguyen, University of Kentucky

Institution

University of Kentucky

Abstract

Developmental psychologists have often described imitation in humans as a complex process indicative of perspective-taking abilities. However, comparable imitative behavior has been identified in animals, which are generally not considered to possess such complex abilities as perspective-taking. Imitative behavior in these cases is not defined as one animal duplicating the behavior of another animal it observed. Several alternative accounts (e.g., social facilitation, stimulus enhancement, and emulation of affordances) could explain similar behavior between animals, potentially construed as imitation. Previous studies have sought to control for these variables by implementing either a bi-directional control or two-action method procedure. In both procedures observer animals witness behavior operated in one of two different ways by a demonstrator animal. For instance, an observer pigeon views either a demonstrator pigeon pecking or stepping on a treadle for reinforcement. When observers are tested, responses similar to their demonstrators can be measured against chance to indicate if imitative learning has occurred. This study examines the extent to which pigeons can show complex imitation, or imitate an unfamiliar sequence of behaviors. Four groups of pigeons observed a demonstrator first either peck or step on a treadle and, second, push a screen over the feeder opening either to the right or left. Planned analyses will assess the proportion of observers’ matching responses to their corresponding demonstrators against chance. If a significant effect is found, it will provide further evidence for imitation in pigeons by suggesting that animals can imitate unfamiliar sequences of behavior.

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Complex Imitation in Pigeons

Developmental psychologists have often described imitation in humans as a complex process indicative of perspective-taking abilities. However, comparable imitative behavior has been identified in animals, which are generally not considered to possess such complex abilities as perspective-taking. Imitative behavior in these cases is not defined as one animal duplicating the behavior of another animal it observed. Several alternative accounts (e.g., social facilitation, stimulus enhancement, and emulation of affordances) could explain similar behavior between animals, potentially construed as imitation. Previous studies have sought to control for these variables by implementing either a bi-directional control or two-action method procedure. In both procedures observer animals witness behavior operated in one of two different ways by a demonstrator animal. For instance, an observer pigeon views either a demonstrator pigeon pecking or stepping on a treadle for reinforcement. When observers are tested, responses similar to their demonstrators can be measured against chance to indicate if imitative learning has occurred. This study examines the extent to which pigeons can show complex imitation, or imitate an unfamiliar sequence of behaviors. Four groups of pigeons observed a demonstrator first either peck or step on a treadle and, second, push a screen over the feeder opening either to the right or left. Planned analyses will assess the proportion of observers’ matching responses to their corresponding demonstrators against chance. If a significant effect is found, it will provide further evidence for imitation in pigeons by suggesting that animals can imitate unfamiliar sequences of behavior.