Capuchin Monkeys Display Affiliation Toward Humans Who Imitate Them

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Science  14 Aug 2009:
Vol. 325, Issue 5942, pp. 880-883
DOI: 10.1126/science.1176269

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During social interactions, humans often unconsciously and unintentionally imitate the behaviors of others, which increases rapport, liking, and empathy between interaction partners. This effect is thought to be an evolutionary adaptation that facilitates group living and may be shared with other primate species. Here, we show that capuchin monkeys, a highly social primate species, prefer human imitators over non-imitators in a variety of ways: The monkeys look longer at imitators, spend more time in proximity to imitators, and choose to interact more frequently with imitators in a token exchange task. These results demonstrate that imitation can promote affiliation in nonhuman primates. Behavior matching that leads to prosocial behaviors toward others may have been one of the mechanisms at the basis of altruistic behavioral tendencies in capuchins and in other primates, including humans.

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