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Reptiles can learn through imitation?

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bearded dragon/U Lincoln

From ScienceDaily:

New research has for the first time provided evidence that reptiles could be capable of social learning through imitation.

The ability to acquire new skills through the ‘true imitation’ of others’ behaviour is thought to be unique to humans and advanced primates, such as chimpanzees.

Scientists draw an important distinction between imitation and emulation when studying the cognitive abilities of animals. In true imitation, the individual ‘copying’ another’s behaviour not only mimics what they see, but also understands the intention behind the action. In emulation, an animal copies a behaviour without understanding its deeper significance: for example, a parrot reciting the words of its owner.

There is considerable debate about the extent to which non-primates are capable of true imitation.

Now researchers from the UK and Hungary have presented the first compelling scientific evidence that reptiles could be capable of social learning through imitation.

They set out to investigate whether the bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) is capable of imitating another bearded dragon through a simple experiment using a wooden board which contained a doorway. …

First, the whole concept of a “tree of intelligence” that would forever privilege mammals and birds over reptiles is nonsense. Reptiles can be as smart as birds. Their main intelligence problem is that they are exotherms and thus don’t need to be smart just to survive.

But the advertised distinction between “imitation” and “emulation” sounds suspicious.

The reason a parrot can’t understand the words he is repeating is that he is only repeating a string of sounds, oblivious to any concepts that might underlie them.

However, animals can often learn the meanings of non-abstract words in human languages as long as the meaning is within the animal’s own frame of reference. “Walkies!!”, taught to a dog, is a good example. It means nothing to a cat, who would just go wherever he liked if let out.

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8 Replies to “Reptiles can learn through imitation?

  1. 1
    Mung says:

    Reptiles can be as smart as birds. Their main intelligence problem is that they are exotherms and thus don’t need to be smart just to survive.

    Endotherms need to be smart just to survive, therefore, they evolved smartability. One wonders how they survived before they got smarts.

  2. 2
    Axel says:

    Well, who’d a thunk?! And there was I taking them to be autistically-programmed computers on legs. The marvels of the animal kingdom, eh?

    I wonder what they’d make of a kitten deliberately misbehaving to taunt its mother into clipping its ears – or trying to.

  3. 3
    Axel says:

    Imagine! Kittens, potentially courting such traumatic physical abuse. Just goes to prove there isn’t a God. He wouldn’t have let that happen. What a terrible example set by the kittens, themselves, too.

  4. 4
    News says:

    Kittens do get swatted by their mommies. Usually, for making noise or refusing to be cleaned. Correct cats do not make unintended noise and certainly don’t smell.

    A favourite mommy cat trick is to just turn the difficult kitten over onto its back with a paw stroke to the neck.

    That apprises the kitten early in life what could happen in a serious battle.

    I don’t know how endotherms evolved smartability. Would say however that they can sustain a much higher metabolic rate than exotherms over a much longer period of time.

    Useful for processing ideas?

    If I were designing smart creatures, I would build in that feature.

  5. 5
    Mung says:

    News, but isn’t it obvious that they evolved smartability through smartification?

    So let’s see I am getting this.

    Endotherms need to be smart just to survive, therefore, they evolved a higher metabolic rate, which would later be useful in the evolution of smartability via the process of smartification.

    Do we know how they evolved a higher metabolic rate?

    A higher metabolic rate would have been useful in keeping endotherms worm, therefore endotherms evolved a higher metabolic rate.

    I have to admit, I am only just now beginning to grasp the reason why people could perhaps find this theory compelling. It explains so much!

  6. 6
    News says:

    Mung, I wrote: “I don’t know how endotherms evolved smartability. Would say however that they can sustain a much higher metabolic rate than exotherms over a much longer period of time.” One can accept the fact without making a claim about its origin.

  7. 7
    Mung says:

    News, I am not mocking you, I am mocking Darwinian teleological storytelling.

    If you don’t know how something originated, make up a story.

    All the better if people find it compelling according to it’s obvious truth.

    If you are going to be warm-blooded, it’s better to warm than not. Therefore the evolution of warmification features would have been more adaptive than not. Therefore higher metabolism evolved.

    Now we just have to pass peer review and get published!

  8. 8
    News says:

    I did not think you were mocking anyone, Mung. I suspect there is a general principle that maintaining a body temperature independent of surroundings would favour the development of intelligence because the brain is a high metabolic area.

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