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Abstract

Human infants imitate others’ actions ‘rationally’: they copy a demonstrator's action when that action is freely chosen, but less when it is forced by some constraint (Gergely, Bekkering & Király, 2002). We investigated whether enculturated chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) also imitate rationally. Using Gergely and colleagues’ (2002) basic procedure, a human demonstrator operated each of six apparatuses using an unusual body part (he pressed it with his forehead or foot, or sat on it). In the Hands Free condition he used this unusual means even though his hands were free, suggesting a free choice. In the Hands Occupied condition he used the unusual means only because his hands were occupied, suggesting a constrained or forced choice. Like human infants, chimpanzees imitated the modeled action more often in the Hands Free than in the Hands Occupied condition. Enculturated chimpanzees thus have some understanding of the rationality of others’ intentional actions, and use this understanding when imitating others.