Friday, 4 April 2014

Monkey see, monkey do...

An excerpt from the book Homo Imitans by Leandro Herrero:

Homo Imitans is at the core of evolution. We are because we copy. But Homo Imitans did not disappear when Homo Sapiens took over. Like a dinner guest reluctant to leave, Homo Imitans stuck around. Social copying explains so much about our behaviour that sometimes it makes you wonder if Sapiens really deserves the limelight it got. When I was a child, the word ‘imitation’ came linked with monkeys. Indeed, at 2 or 3 weeks old, both chimps and humans start imitating others. And then the ‘monkey see, monkey do’ really begins.

There is a whole world of data available on imitation in animals, but my interest in social infection centres around the social life of that odd couple in evolution: Sapiens and Imitans. People have been documenting the social whereabouts of Homo Imitans for a long time. Some of those accounts belong to the social sciences and only surface in the media occasionally. However, some phenomena start in the media and end up being analyzed or validated by academia.

In the Annex of this book you will find a library of short summaries of the most relevant cases that illustrate this social life. The classification in the Annex is artificial, but deliberate. I grouped them as they tend to appear in public life (‘clusters of examples’), but there is a great deal of overlap between the mechanisms involved. I’ll take you on a short tour later, but, before that, let me set the scene by sharing some comments on six general and somehow overlapping examples of our social copying life.

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