Monkey See Monkey Do!

The Rhesus Macaque, scientifically known as the Macaca mulatta (Ferrari et al., 2006), socially learns its behavior during early stages of life by imitating facial movements presented in front of them! (Ferrari et al., 2006) This is due to their desire “to synchronize its activity with those of its group members… and to learn the context in which an activity should be performed”. (Ferrari et al., 2006) However, don’t take this fascinating interaction for granted! These macaques only mimic you for about the first week of their life; after which their imitations completely disappear! This is because Rhesus Macaques have extremely fast cognitive and motor learning which develops in slightly less than 1 week! (Ferrari et al., 2006)

The Rhesus Macaque mimics 3 kinds of behavior – mouth opening, lip smacking, and tongue protrusion. Out of the 3 behaviours, lip smacking seems to be the easiest action to follow – when the experimenter does slow movements of opening his/her mouth, the monkey will strangely only open its mouth in high frequencies! (Ferrari et al., 2006) This shows that macaques mostly follow the functional-means of behaviours, not the exact pattern. (Ferrari et al., 2006)

After the neonatal period of their life, Rhesus Macaques start to follow behaviours of their own species, specifically food attaining behaviours. Using observational learning, one macaque “learned to pull a plug from a box with its teeth to obtain food only after watching another monkey succeed at this task.” (Kuczaj II & Yeater, 2006: 415) These imitations are due to the mirror neuron mechanism which “activates similar motor programs in the monkey premotor areas” (Ferrari et al., 2006) after observing another individual.

Monkeys aren’t the only animals who imitate – Bottlenose Dolphins, Tursiops, actually “ape better than apes”! (Marino et al., 2007) And like macaques, they also produce “goal-emulated behaviors rather than imitative ones”! (Kuczaj II & Yeater, 2006: 414) The amazing difference about dolphins is that they are able to imitate throughout their entire lifetime as well as imitate without being asked to do so – it’s just in their blood!

How amusing and comical the way these animals learn how to behave!



Video: Rhesus Macaque imitating scientist open his mouth! (PLoS Biology)

Dolphin imitation of human leg (PLoS Biology) :










Literature Cited

“Dolphin imitates the behavior of a human by using its tail as an analogy for a leg,” by PLoS Biology. URL: (accessed on 14 Mar 2013). doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139.g006

Ferrari, P. F., E. Visalberghi, A. Paukner, L. Fogassi, A. Ruggiero & S. J. Suomi, 2006. Neonatal Imitation in Rhesus Macaques. PLoS Biology, 4(9): e302. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040302

Kuczaj II, S. A. & D. B. Yeater, 2006. Dolphin Imitation: Who, What, When, and Why? Aquatic Mammals, 32(4):  413-422. DOI 10.1578/AM.32.4.2006.413

Marino, L., R. C. Connor, R. E. Fordyce, L. M. Herman, P. R. Hof, L. Lefebvre, D. Lusseau, B. McCowan, E. A. Nimchinsky, A. A. Pack, L. Rendell, J. S. Reidenberg, D. Reiss, M. D. Uhen, E. V. der Gucht & H. Whitehea, 2007. Cetaceans Have Complex Brains for Complex Cognition. PLoS Biology, 5(5): e139. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139

“3-d-Old Macaque Infant Imitating Mouth Opening,” by PLoS Biology. URL: (accessed on 14 Mar 2013). doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.0040302.sv001