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Children vs. Chimpanzees

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Tagged As: Biology

Graduate students at Yale recently conducted a study between chimpanzees and toddlers to discern learning techniques. Previously, Scottish researchers experimented with chimpanzees learning to open a box. Their findings discovered that without a goal, the chimpanzees would imitate a procedure just to 'see what happens.' On the other hand, when the chimpanzees had a motivation for opening the box (e.g. food inside), they ceased imitating the instructor's technique and simply opened the box.

Experiments conducted with children yielded nearly opposite results. When told to simply open the box without demonstration, the children would derive their own solution with moderate efficiency of steps. However, researchers were surprised to find that when children received a demonstration of convoluted procedures for opening the same box, they would imitate the procedure almost exactly, despite already knowing a faster method. Time after time, humans imitated instruction exactly whereas primates independently eliminated extra steps. While social learning theory and behavior modeling have long been explanations for human behavior, the overriding imitation behavior from previously learned techniques was not expected. Pending further study, the findings may uncover improved teaching techniques and explain the psychological phenomenon of role model imitation.

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