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Overimitation in dogs? Do dogs show a “human peculiarity”?

Overimitation in dogs? Do dogs show a “human peculiarity”?


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Overimitating is social learning based on observation, in which children imitate obviously senseless actions, which is strongly shaped by belonging and conformity, but not by causality. So far, this behavior has been considered purely human. Now a veterinary study from Vienna suggests that dogs also show this behavior.

Special form of learning from observation

A study by Vetmeduni Vienna under the supervision of Ludwig Huber, head of the department for comparative cognitive research at the Messerli Research Institute of Vetmeduni Vienna, tested whether dogs learn in this special way.

Thesis: Dogs copy actions

Huber says: “Since this peculiar form of imitation in humans is strongly motivated by social factors such as belonging or conformity, we hypothesized that domesticated and cultivated dogs copy such acts more often than monkeys, especially if this is shown by their carers. "

Why dogs?

Dogs were the first choice for the study because they learn easily, understand human behavior, and live in a man-made environment. Like children, dogs learn in a social process.

Thesis is confirmed

In fact, the dogs showed the behavior that is called overimitation in humans. Half of the dogs repeated a causally irrelevant action that their human caregiver showed them.

Similar to children

Huber concludes: “Similar to children, learning dogs and copying their caregivers seems to be a profound social process. The copying of obviously causally irrelevant actions can therefore no longer be regarded as a single human act, but one that humans share with their four-legged companions. ”

What is special about overimitation?

Social learning evolved in many animal species and is almost always efficient. In this way, animals learn about causalities and learn vital chains of behavior: catching prey, escaping, hiding etc. The over-imitation, on the other hand, is hardly efficient since the imitations have no practical consequences, for example if a child taps a container with a feather, then the lid unscrewed to get a figure out of the jar. The spring is not necessary for this procedure.

What is overimitation for?

The phenomenon of overimitation has not been fully clarified. One approach assumes that children view such practically superfluous actions as causal because they see them with their parents.

Symbolic act

Another approach comes from symbol research and already sees the cultural development of symbolic actions. Accordingly, the child is not concerned with the fact that the copied action leads to success with the object, but rather communicates his affiliation with the caregiver and the social group.

Door opener for future research?

The study could be an occasion whether and how dogs, which are shaped like no other animal in the culture of humans, also understand symbolic definitions of belonging, or, according to the first interpretation, consider an action as causal because of its human caregiver executes this. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Source: www.vetmeduni.ac.at/messerliAussender:Mag.rer.nat. Georg MairScience Communication / Public Relations

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