From ArticleWorld

Imitation is the copying of a behaviour or skill, something which is difficult to do and a rare ability in the animal world. With the exception of birds which imitate songs and whales and dolphins which imitate sounds and actions, most species do not have the ability to copy a behaviour from another animal. Furthermore, it is only humans who seem to be capable of widespread generalized imitation.


Dr Susan Blackmore, author of ‘The Meme Machine’, maintains that evolution favoured those who could imitate better and therefore gain from another’s learning or creativity. She proposes that as it is a difficult task, those who could imitate needed bigger brains, and because evolution favoured the best imitators, bigger brains became the norm for human beings.

Mirror neurons

An accidental observation by scientists studying the action of neurons in a monkey led to the discovery of the existence of mirror neurons in the brains of primates, birds and humans. The scientists noted the neuron action of a monkey reaching for some fruit, but were astounded to see the same neuron action in the monkey’s brain when one of the scientists reached for some fruit. A mirror neuron, then, is the neuron which fires when an action is performed and when the same action is seen to be performed by someone else.

This mechanism provides an explanation as to how an action is understood, how learning by imitation takes place and finally how simulation of another’s behaviour is possible.