Imitation, Mind Reading, and Social Learning

Biological Theory 8 (1):20-27 (2013)
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Abstract

Imitation has been understood in different ways: as a cognitive adaptation subtended by genetically specified cognitive mechanisms; as an aspect of domain general human cognition. The second option has been advanced by Cecilia Heyes who treats imitation as an instance of associative learning. Her argument is part of a deflationary treatment of the “mirror neuron” phenomenon. I agree with Heyes about mirror neurons but argue that Kim Sterelny has provided the tools to provide a better account of the nature and role of human imitation. What we call imitative learning is an instance of social learning. It has little to do with empathy, emotional contagion, or mind reading

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Philip Gerrans
University of Adelaide