Monkey See, Monkey Do

“Many animals, including humans, acquire valuable skills and knowledge by copying others,” explains an advertisement for a textbook:

Scientists refer to this as social learning. It is one of the most exciting and rapidly developing areas of behavioral research and sits at the interface of many academic disciplines, including biology, experimental psychology, economics, and cognitive neuroscience.1

The social learning theory proposed by Albert Bandura has become perhaps the most influential theory of learning and development,” writes the About.com website:

While rooted in many of the basic concepts of traditional learning theory, Bandura believed that direct reinforcement could not account for all types of learning.

His theory added a social element, arguing that people can learn new information and behaviors by watching other people. Known as observational learning (or modeling), this type of learning can be used to explain a wide variety of behaviors.…

In his famous Bobo doll experiment, Bandura demonstrated that children learn and imitate behaviors they have observed in other people. The children in Bandura’s studies observed an adult acting violently toward a Bobo doll. When the children were later allowed to play in a room with the Bobo doll, they began to imitate the aggressive actions they had previously observed.2

“In a clever, groundbreaking study published Thursday [25 April 2013] in the journal Science, researchers showed that when Vervet monkeys roam, they act in when-in-Rome fashion,” reports The New York Times:

“Culture was thought to be something only humans had,” said Carel van Schaik, an evolutionary anthropologist at the University of Zurich who was not involved in the study. “But if you define culture as socially transmitted knowledge, skills and information, it turns out we see some of that in animals.” 3

“Nonconscious behavioral mimicry occurs when a person unwittingly imitates the behaviors of another person,” notes student Mee Young Jeong at the CiteLighter.com website of research notes.4

Jessica L. Lakin et al note:

The “chameleon effect” refers to the tendency to adopt the postures, gestures, and mannerisms of interaction partners (Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception-behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76, 893–910.). This type of mimicry occurs outside of conscious awareness, and without any intent to mimic or imitate.5

CiteLighter references this commentary:

Lakin, Jefferis, Cheng, and Chartrand provide extensive evidence that the nonconscious mimicry of a partner’s postures, gestures, and other movements is a common occurrence in social settings. Furthermore, this mimicry increases liking and rapport between interactants. In turn, increased liking and rapport lead to more frequent mimicry. Because we are social animals dependent on others for most of our needs, the positive relationships facilitated by mimicry provide a distinct advantage for survival.6


1 Princeton University Press, at http://blog.press.princeton.edu/2013/05/01/social-learning-people-see-people-do-monkey-see-monkey-do/ (retrieved: 21 July 2013).

2 Kendra Cherry, “Social Learning Theory: An Overview of Bandura’s Social Learning Theory,” at http://psychology.about.com/od/developmentalpsychology/a/sociallearning.htm (retrieved: 21 July 2013).

3 Pam Belluck, “Monkeys Are Adept at Picking Up Social Cues, Research Shows,” 25 April 2013, at http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/26/science/science-study-shows-monkeys-pick-up-social-cues.html (retrieved: 21 July 2013).

4 Nonconscious Behavior Mimicry, CiteLighter.com, at http://www.citelighter.com/science/psychology/knowledgecards/nonconscious-behavior-mimicry (retrieved: 21 July 2013).

5 Jessica L. Lakin, Valerie E. Jefferis, Clara Michelle Cheng, and Tanya L. Chartrand, “The Chameleon Effect as Social Glue: Evidence for the Evolutionary Significance of Nonconscious Mimicry,” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, Fall 2003, p. 145, at http://www.psp.ucl.ac.be/recherche/ecoledoctorale/Van%20Baaren%201.pdf (retrieved: 21 July 2013).

6 Nonconscious Behavior Mimicry, CiteLighter.com.

See also

Kevin J. Crosby, “Conditioning,” SkewsMe.com, in Tinfoil Hat, at http://skewsme.com/tinfoilhat/chapter/behavioral-conditioning/ (retrieved: 17 July 2013).

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