A test of imitative learning in starlings using a two-action method with an enhanced ghost control

T.W. Fawcett, A.M.J. Skinner, A.R. Goldsmith

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Imitative learning, in which an individual learns to reproduce the behaviour pattern of another, has attracted considerable attention as a potentially powerful form of social learning. Despite extensive research, however, it has proved difficult to demonstrate in nonhuman animals. We investigated the ability of European starlings, Sturnus vulgaris, to imitate the behaviour of a conspecific. Subjects watched a trained conspecific manipulating a plug for access to a food reward, using either a pushing or a pulling action. When later tested with the same apparatus these birds completed the task using the same action they had previously observed. In a second experiment, a separate group of starlings saw the plug move upwards or downwards automatically and a nearby conspecific obtain a food reward. When given access to the task these starlings failed to move the plug in the direction they had seen. Our experiment is an improvement on previous bidirectional control designs and provides strong evidence that starlings are capable of imitation. We advocate further use of this experimental design in attempts to demonstrate imitative learning. (C) 2002 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)547-556
JournalAnimal Behaviour
Publication statusPublished - 2002

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