August 14, 2009
Monkeys flattered by imitation
Capuchin monkeys, like people, subconsciously warm to those who mirror their body language, primatologists in Italy said.
Studies have shown people who are imitated feel more positively, or express greater empathy, toward those who are imitating them.
Now, in the first study of its kind, capuchin monkeys have demonstrated that imitation is flattering, scientists at the Institute of Cognitive Sciences and Technologies said.
Researcher Elisabetta Visalberghi chose Capuchin monkeys for their sociable, tolerant and flexible behavior. The monkeys were given a ball with holes filled with grapes, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Researchers then copied the monkeys as they extracted the grapes, one researcher vaguely mirroring the monkeys' technique, while another researcher copied the monkeys exactly, Visalberghi said.
The monkeys chose to spend more time with the researcher who imitated them exactly, Francesco Ferrari of Parma University, Visalberghi's colleague said. The scientists concluded mirroring behavior reduces tension while encouraging social cohesion, tolerance and cooperation, Ferrari said.