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Imitation in neonatal chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes)


Masako Myowa-Yamakoshi, The University of Shiga Prefecture, School of Human Cultures, Hassakacho 2500, Hikone, Shiga 522–8533, Japan; e-mail:


This paper provides evidence for imitative abilities in neonatal chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes), our closest relatives. Two chimpanzees were reared from birth by their biological mothers. At less than 7 days of age the chimpanzees could discriminate between, and imitate, human facial gestures (tongue protrusion and mouth opening). By the time they were 2 months old, however, the chimpanzees no longer imitated the gestures. They began to perform mouth opening frequently in response to any of the three facial gestures presented to them. These findings suggest that neonatal facial imitation is most likely an innate ability, developed through natural selection in humans and in chimpanzees. The relationship between the disappearance of neonatal imitation and the development of social communicative behavior is discussed from an evolutionary perspective.

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