Imitation cements social bonding, say researchersAugust 14th, 2009 - 2:26 pm ICT by IANS
Washington, Aug 14 (IANS) Imitation, goes an old saying, is the sincerest form of flattery. New research shows it also cements social bonding and later friendships.
The study, led by scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that capuchin monkeys preferred the company of researchers who imitated them to that of researchers who did not imitate them.
“Researchers have known that human beings prefer the behaviour of other people who subtly imitate their gestures and other affects,” said Duane Alexander, director of Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) where the NIH portion of the study was conducted.
“Observing how imitation promotes bonding in primates may lead to insights in disorders in which imitation and bonding is impaired, such as certain forms of autism,” said Alexander.
The study was conducted by Annika Paukner and Stephen J. Suomi of the NICHD, Elisabetta Visalberghi of the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies of the National Research Council in Rome, and Pier F. Ferrari of the University of Parma.
Human beings often will take on body postures, make gestures, and display the mannerisms of people they encounter, the study authors wrote. For the most part, this behaviour is unconscious, with both the imitator and the person being imitated unaware that the behaviour is taking place.
People who are not aware they are being imitated often feel affection and empathy for their imitators, said the study authors.
In fact, studies have shown that people are more likely to help their imitators, and under appropriate circumstances, even leave them more generous tips. Such imitation is thought to provide the basis by which human beings ultimately form lasting social groups.
Before the current study, however, no one had ever determined if non-human primates were also predisposed to bond with individuals who imitated them.
The researchers chose capuchin monkeys because they are a highly social species that forms strong social groups. For the study, each monkey was given a wiffle ball.
Paukner explained that the monkeys commonly displayed three behaviours: poking the ball with their fingers, putting it in their mouths, or pounding it on a surface, says an NICHD release.
In sequence, each monkey was paired with two human investigators, each of which also had a wiffle ball. One investigator would mimic the monkey’s behaviour, poking, mouthing, or pounding the ball, as appropriate. The other investigator would adopt a different behaviour, for example, pounding the ball when the monkey poked it.
After the imitation sequence, the monkeys consistently spent more time near the investigator who imitated them than with the investigator who did not — which the researchers interpreted as a sign that the monkeys felt a sense of affiliation toward their imitator.
The study appeared in the Friday edition of Science.
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