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Keywords:

  • visual attention;
  • movement;
  • imitation;
  • spatial cognition;
  • human rearing

Abstract

Capuchin monkeys have provided uneven evidence of matching actions they observe others perform. In accord with theories emphasizing the attentional salience of object movement and spatial relationships, we predicted that human-reared monkeys would better match events in which a human demonstrator moved an object into a new relation with another object or surface than other kinds of actions. Three human-reared capuchins were invited repeatedly by a familiar human to perform a fixed set of actions upon objects or upon their bodies, using the “Do as I do” procedure. Actions directed at the body were matched less reliably than actions involving objects, and actions were matched best when the monkey looked at the demonstration for at least 2 sec and performed its action within a few seconds after the demonstration. The most commonly matched actions were those that one monkey performed relatively often when the experiment began. One monkey partially reproduced three novel actions (out of 48 demonstrations), all three involving moving or placing objects, and two of which it also performed following other demonstrations. These findings contribute convergent evidence that capuchin monkeys display social facilitation of activity, enhanced interest in particular objects and emulation of spatial outcomes. This pattern can support the development of shared manipulative skills, as evident in traditions of foraging and tool use in natural settings. The findings do not suggest that human rearing substantively altered capuchins' ability or interest in matching the actions of a familiar human, although visual attention to the human demonstrator may have been greater in these monkeys than in normally reared monkeys. Am. J. Primatol. 73:643–654, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.