Imitation, social learning and cultural traditions

Lewis Dean, Gillian Louise Vale, Andrew Whiten

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Social learning allows the spread of new knowledge and skills, and is the basis for traditions in a wide range of animal species. These traditions may, in turn, form the basis of culture. Although often used synonymously with social learning, imitation denotes a distinctive social learning mechanism, which many researchers hypothesize allows particularly high-fidelity transmission of information. This essay examines a range of social learning mechanisms that have been distinguished and reviews how they have been investigated. Current debates on the definition and identification of imitation and other forms of social learning are outlined, addressing differences in their usage across different animal species and impacts on the spread of traditions and culture.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationWiley International Encyclopedia of Anthropology
EditorsHilary Callan
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2016


  • Culture
  • Evolution
  • Animal behavior
  • Cognitive Science
  • Theory of Mind


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