Abstract # 22:

Scheduled for Saturday, September 19, 2009 09:45 AM-09:55 AM: Session 3 (Del Mar Room) Oral Presentation


J. L. Russell1, J. A. Schaeffer1 and W. D. Hopkins1,2
1Yerkes National Primate Research Center, Department of Psychobiology, 954 Gatewood Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329, USA, 2Department of Psychology, Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA 30030

The ability to understand concepts that are divorced from reality, known as secondary representations, appears during human children’s (Homo sapiens) second year. This ability is necessary for such things as means-end reasoning, empathy, self-recognition, and understanding imitation. It has been argued that chimpanzees utilize secondary representations but to date, little data regarding ape’s abilities to understand imitation exists. In this study, 14 chimpanzees participated in three 12-minute trial blocks testing their understanding of being imitated. Blocks consisted of two 3-minute trials in which an experimenter imitated the subject’s actions and two 3-minute trials of one of three control conditions including contingent non-matching (the experimenter’s actions were temporally related to but different from the subject’s actions), non-contingent, non-matching (the experimenter performed a fixed behavior set unrelated to the subject’s actions), and no action (the experimenter sat motionless). Trials were scored for behavior repetitions and for behavioral testing sequences of four or more different consecutive behaviors and analyzed using ANOVA. In regards to testing sequences, during imitation trials chimpanzees produced more different behaviors than in other conditions [F(3,39)=11.39, p<0.001] and more total behaviors than in two control conditions [F(3,39)=3.17, p<0.05]. Additionally, behavior repetitions lasted longer during imitation trials than during two of three control conditions [F(3,39)=3.58, p<0.05]. This data suggests that captive chimpanzees recognize when they are being imitated, providing further support that they employ secondary representations.