Contextual imitation of intransitive body actions in a Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas): A "do as other does" study.
ABSTRACT: Cetaceans are remarkable for exhibiting group-specific behavioral traditions or cultures in several behavioral domains (e.g., calls, behavioral tactics), and the question of whether they can be acquired socially, for example through imitative processes, remains open. Here we used a "Do as other does" paradigm to experimentally study the ability of a beluga to imitate familiar intransitive (body-oriented) actions demonstrated by a conspecific. The participant was first trained to copy three familiar behaviors on command (training phase) and then was tested for her ability to generalize the learned "Do as the other does" command to a different set of three familiar behaviors (testing phase). We found that the beluga (1) was capable of learning the copy command signal "Do what-the-other-does"; (2) exhibited high matching accuracy for trained behaviors (mean = 84% of correct performance) after making the first successful copy on command; (3) copied successfully the new set of three familiar generalization behaviors that were untrained to the copy command (range of first copy = 12 to 35 trials); and (4) deployed a high level of matching accuracy (mean = 83%) after making the first copy of an untrained behavior on command. This is the first evidence of contextual imitation of intransitive (body-oriented) movements in the beluga and adds to the reported findings on production imitation of sounds in this species and production imitation of sounds and motor actions in several cetaceans, especially dolphins and killer whales. Collectively these findings highlight the notion that cetaceans have a natural propensity at skillfully and proficiently matching the sounds and body movements demonstrated by conspecifics, a fitness-enhancing propensity in the context of cooperative hunting and anti-predatory defense tactics, and of alliance formation strategies that have been documented in these species' natural habitats. Future work should determine if the beluga can also imitate novel motor actions.
Project description:Vocal imitation is a hallmark of human spoken language, which, along with other advanced cognitive skills, has fuelled the evolution of human culture. Comparative evidence has revealed that although the ability to copy sounds from conspecifics is mostly uniquely human among primates, a few distantly related taxa of birds and mammals have also independently evolved this capacity. Remarkably, field observations of killer whales have documented the existence of group-differentiated vocal dialects that are often referred to as traditions or cultures and are hypothesized to be acquired non-genetically. Here we use a do-as-I-do paradigm to study the abilities of a killer whale to imitate novel sounds uttered by conspecific (vocal imitative learning) and human models (vocal mimicry). We found that the subject made recognizable copies of all familiar and novel conspecific and human sounds tested and did so relatively quickly (most during the first 10 trials and three in the first attempt). Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the vocal variants observed in natural populations of this species can be socially learned by imitation. The capacity for vocal imitation shown in this study may scaffold the natural vocal traditions of killer whales in the wild.
Project description:Recent studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of the voice for communicating sonic ideas, and the accuracy with which it can be used to imitate acoustic instruments, synthesised sounds and environmental sounds. However, there has been little research on vocal imitation of percussion sounds, particularly concerning the perceptual similarity between imitations and the sounds being imitated. In the present study we address this by investigating how accurately musicians can vocally imitate percussion sounds, in terms of whether listeners consider the imitations 'more similar' to the imitated sounds than to other same-category sounds. In a vocal production task, 14 musicians imitated 30 drum sounds from five categories (cymbals, hats, kicks, snares, toms). Listeners were then asked to rate the similarity between the imitations and same-category drum sounds via web based listening test. We found that imitated sounds received the highest similarity ratings for 16 of the 30 sounds. The similarity between a given drum sound and its imitation was generally rated higher than for imitations of another same-category sound, however for some drum categories (snares and toms) certain sounds were consistently considered most similar to the imitations, irrespective of the sound being imitated. Finally, we apply an existing auditory image based measure for perceptual similarity between same-category drum sounds, to model the similarity ratings using linear mixed effect regression. The results indicate that this measure is a good predictor of perceptual similarity between imitations and imitated sounds, when compared to acoustic features containing only temporal or spectral features.
Project description:The ability to reproduce visually presented actions has been studied through neuropsychological observations of patients with ideomotor apraxia. These studies include attempts to understand the neural basis of action reproduction based on lesion-symptom mapping in different patient groups. While there is a convergence of evidence that areas in the parietal and frontal lobes within the left hemisphere are involved in the imitation of a variety of actions, questions remain about whether the results generalize beyond the imitation of tool use and whether the presence of a strong grasp component of the action is critical. Here we used voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping to assess the neural substrates of imitating meaningful (familiar, MF) and meaningless (unfamiliar, ML) tool-related (transitive) and non-tool related (intransitive) actions. The analysis showed that the left parietal cortex was involved in the imitation of transitive gestures, regardless of whether they were meaningful or not. In addition there was poor reproduction of meaningless actions (both transitive and intransitive) following damage of the right frontal cortex. These findings suggest a role of right frontal regions in processing of unfamiliar actions.
Project description:The human "mirror neuron system" has been proposed to be the neural substrate that underlies understanding and, possibly, imitating actions. However, since the brain activity with mirror properties seems insufficient to provide a good description for imitation of actions outside one's own repertoire, the existence of supplementary processes has been proposed. Moreover, it is unclear whether action observation requires the same neural mechanisms as the explicit access to their meaning. The aim of this study was two-fold as we investigated whether action observation requires different processes depending on 1) whether the ultimate goal is to imitate or understand the presented actions and 2) whether the to-be-imitated actions are familiar or unfamiliar to the subject. Participants were presented with both meaningful familiar actions and meaningless unfamiliar actions that they had to either imitate or discriminate later. Event-related Potentials were used as differences in brain activity could have been masked by the use of other techniques with lower temporal resolution. In the imitation task, a sustained left frontal negativity was more pronounced for meaningless actions than for meaningful ones, starting from an early time-window. Conversely, observing unfamiliar versus familiar actions with the intention of discriminating them led to marked differences over right centro-posterior scalp regions, in both middle and latest time-windows. These findings suggest that action imitation and action understanding may be sustained by dissociable mechanisms: while imitation of unfamiliar actions activates left frontal processes, that are likely to be related to learning mechanisms, action understanding involves dedicated operations which probably require right posterior regions, consistent with their involvement in social interactions.
Project description:When we observe someone else speaking, we tend to automatically activate the corresponding speech motor patterns. When listening, we therefore covertly imitate the observed speech. Simulation theories of speech perception propose that covert imitation of speech motor patterns supports speech perception. Covert imitation of speech has been studied with interference paradigms, including the stimulus-response compatibility paradigm (SRC). The SRC paradigm measures covert imitation by comparing articulation of a prompt following exposure to a distracter. Responses tend to be faster for congruent than for incongruent distracters; thus, showing evidence of covert imitation. Simulation accounts propose a key role for covert imitation in speech perception. However, covert imitation has thus far only been demonstrated for a select class of speech sounds, namely consonants, and it is unclear whether covert imitation extends to vowels. We aimed to demonstrate that covert imitation effects as measured with the SRC paradigm extend to vowels, in two experiments. We examined whether covert imitation occurs for vowels in a consonant-vowel-consonant context in visual, audio, and audiovisual modalities. We presented the prompt at four time points to examine how covert imitation varied over the distracter's duration. The results of both experiments clearly demonstrated covert imitation effects for vowels, thus supporting simulation theories of speech perception. Covert imitation was not affected by stimulus modality and was maximal for later time points.
Project description:Mental imitation, perhaps a precursor to motor imitation, involves visual perspective-taking and motor imagery. Research on mental imitation in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has been rather limited compared to that on motor imitation. The main objective of this fMRI study is to determine the differences in brain responses underlying mirroring and mentalizing networks during mental imitation in children and adolescents with ASD. Thirteen high-functioning children and adolescents with ASD and 15 age-and- IQ-matched typically developing (TD) control participants took part in this fMRI study. In the MRI scanner, participants were shown cartoon pictures of people performing everyday actions (Transitive actions: e.g., ironing clothes but with the hand missing; and Intransitive actions: e.g., clapping hands with the palms missing) and were asked to identify which hand or palm orientation would best fit the gap. The main findings are: 1) both groups performed equally while processing transitive and intransitive actions; 2) both tasks yielded activation in the bilateral inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and inferior parietal lobule (IPL) in ASD and TD groups; 3) Increased activation was seen in ASD children, relative to TD, in left ventral premotor and right middle temporal gyrus during intransitive actions; and 4) ASD symptom severity positively correlated with activation in left parietal, right middle temporal, and right premotor regions across all subjects. Overall, our findings suggest that regions mediating mirroring may be recruiting more brain resources in ASD and may have implications for understanding social movement through modeling.
Project description:The emergence of social behaviors early in life is likely crucial for the development of mother-infant relationships. Some of these behaviors, such as the capacity of neonates to imitate adult facial movements, were previously thought to be limited to humans and perhaps the ape lineage. Here we report the behavioral responses of infant rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) to the following human facial and hand gestures: lip smacking, tongue protrusion, mouth opening, hand opening, and opening and closing of eyes (control condition). In the third day of life, infant macaques imitate lip smacking and tongue protrusion. On the first day of life, the model's mouth openings elicited a similar matched behavior (lip smacking) in the infants. These imitative responses are present at an early stage of development, but they are apparently confined to a narrow temporal window. Because lip smacking is a core gesture in face-to-face interactions in macaques, neonatal imitation may serve to tune infants' affiliative responses to the social world. Our findings provide a quantitative description of neonatal imitation in a nonhuman primate species and suggest that these imitative capacities, contrary to what was previously thought, are not unique to the ape and human lineage. We suggest that their evolutionary origins may be traced to affiliative gestures with communicative functions.
Project description:Child-directed cues support imitation of novel actions at 18 months, but not at two years of age. The current studies explore the mechanisms that underlie the propensity that children have to copy others at 18 months, and how the value of child-directed communication changes over development. We ask if attentional allocation accounts for children's failure to imitate observed actions at 18 months, and their success at two years of age, and we explore the informational value child-directed contexts may provide across ontogeny. Eighteen-month-old (Study 1) and two-year-old (Study 2) children viewed causally non-obvious actions performed by child-directed (Study 1 & 2), observed (Study 1 & 2), or non-interactive (Study 2) actors, and their visual attention and imitative behaviors were assessed. Results demonstrated that child-directed contexts supported imitative learning for 18-month-old children, independent of their effects on proximal attention. However, by two years of age, neither directness nor communication between social partners was a necessary condition for supporting social imitation. These findings suggest that developmental changes in children's propensity to extract information from observation cannot be accounted for by changes in children's interpretation of what counts as child-directed information, and are likely not due to changes in how children allocate attention to observed events.
Project description:Spontaneous imitation is assumed to underlie the acquisition of important skills by infants, including language and social interaction. In this study, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to examine the neural basis of 'spontaneously' driven imitation, which has not yet been fully investigated. Healthy participants were presented with movie clips of meaningless bimanual actions and instructed to observe and imitate them during an fMRI scan. The participants were subsequently shown the movie clips again and asked to evaluate the strength of their 'urge to imitate' (Urge) for each action. We searched for cortical areas where the degree of activation positively correlated with Urge scores; significant positive correlations were observed in the right supplementary motor area (SMA) and bilateral midcingulate cortex (MCC) under the imitation condition. These areas were not explained by explicit reasons for imitation or the kinematic characteristics of the actions. Previous studies performed in monkeys and humans have implicated the SMA and MCC/caudal cingulate zone in voluntary actions. This study also confirmed the functional connectivity between Urge and imitation performance using a psychophysiological interaction analysis. Thus, our findings reveal the critical neural components that underlie spontaneous imitation and provide possible reasons why infants imitate spontaneously.
Project description:Social learning varies among primate species. Macaques only copy the product of observed actions, or emulate, while humans and chimpanzees also copy the process, or imitate. In humans, imitation is linked to the mirror system. Here we compare mirror system connectivity across these species using diffusion tensor imaging. In macaques and chimpanzees, the preponderance of this circuitry consists of frontal-temporal connections via the extreme/external capsules. In contrast, humans have more substantial temporal-parietal and frontal-parietal connections via the middle/inferior longitudinal fasciculi and the third branch of the superior longitudinal fasciculus. In chimpanzees and humans, but not in macaques, this circuitry includes connections with inferior temporal cortex. In humans alone, connections with superior parietal cortex were also detected. We suggest a model linking species differences in mirror system connectivity and responsivity with species differences in behavior, including adaptations for imitation and social learning of tool use.