Imitation is tougher than we thought

Research suggests that chimps learn differently from humans.

When they showed the chimpanzees how to retrieve the food, the researchers added some unnecessary steps. Those chimps could see that the scientists were wasting their time sliding the bolt and tapping the top. None followed suit. They all went straight for the door. The children could see just as easily as the chimps that it was pointless to slide open the bolt or tap on top of the box. Yet 80 percent did so anyway.

… humans are hard-wired to learn by imitation, even when that is clearly not the best way to learn. As human ancestors began to make complicated tools, figuring out goals might not have been good enough anymore. Hominids needed a way to register automatically what other hominids did, even if they didn’t understand the intentions behind them. They needed to imitate. Not long ago, many psychologists thought that imitation was a simple, primitive action compared with figuring out the intentions of others. But that is changing.