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'The origins of gestural imitation: insights from evolution, development and cultural transmission'

Frankland 305
Life and Environmental Sciences, Research
Tuesday 3rd November 2015 (13:00-14:00)
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Part of the Social Cognitive Neuroscience and Development Group Seminar Series

Speaker: Zanna Clay


The ability to copy others lies at the heart of our capacity to learn languages, social rules and acquire material culture. While imitation is a core feature of human life, understanding how it evolved, how it develops and the role of cultural transmission are not fully understood. Most of our understanding comes from studying tool use, while neglecting the role of imitation in other contexts, such as communicative interactions. Gesture plays a key role in human communication and in language evolution, thus understanding the mechanisms underlying gestural imitation is relevant for assessing how human culture and communication relate. 

Here, I will discuss recent studies we are conducting to explore imitation and gesture from evolutionary, developmental and cultural perspectives. I will present a study comparing action copying in human children compared to that of our closest living relatives, the bonobos (Pan paniscus) and upcoming research exploring gestural imitation capacities in this ape. I will present a series of studies examining the development of gestural communication in children, as it relates to capacities such as working memory and imitation in technical versus communicative tasks. Finally, I will present a diffusion chain experiment that examines how cultural transmission influences gestural structure. 

Combining these complementary angles provides a richer understanding of how communication and culture relate, how they evolved and develop and how transmission processes influence them. 

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