“Stop copying me, you little monkey!" Have you ever said those words? Do your siblings annoy you by copying whatever you do?
Most people have heard the phrase, “Monkey see, monkey do." It's a popular American expression. Have you ever WONDERed if it's true?
Monkeys possess a natural curiosity that leads them to try new things. Perhaps because of their curiosity, monkeys also tend to be among the most intelligent animals. You may have heard that monkeys, and other primates such as chimpanzees and orangutans, are similar to humans.
In fact, smart, curious monkeys do indeed live very lives, similar in many ways to human beings. Monkeys need to live in groups for food and protection.
In the wild, monkeys do imitate each other. Why? They often imitate each other for survival purposes. Imitation is one way primates understand each other.
For example, monkeys often imitate to communicate with each other, find food, recognize kin, and use tools, medicine, and language. According to a study performed by Annika Paukner, a comparative behaviorist at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, groups of monkeys imitated each other when they were feeding, defending themselves, and traveling together.
Monkeys have also been found to imitate human beings. Pier Ferrari and Stephen Suomi, researchers at PLoS Biology, conducted a scientific experiment to see if monkeys imitated people. The researchers made faces at baby monkeys, such as sticking out their tongues, smacking their lips, and opening and closing their mouths.
The baby monkeys copied the researchers' facial expressions. The researchers believe that, since the babies cannot see their own faces, they like to mimic adults. This is how both human and monkey babies communicate with their parents.
Certain primates, such as chimpanzees, have learned American Sign Language by imitating human beings. In fact, Washoe, a chimpanzee, learned about 250 American Sign Language signs at the University of Nevada. Washoe learned them by imitating two scientists named Allen and Beatrix Gardner.
In addition to imitating other monkeys and even human beings, monkeys like to be imitated by others, too. Studies show that monkeys look longer at people who imitate them, and they tend to be friendlier towards these people. In fact, researchers have found that monkeys will trade things, laugh, play, and accept food and water from people who imitate them.
Researchers have also found that monkeys imitate others because it's a sign of affection that helps to create a relationship with the imitator and other animals. Annika Paukner says, “Imitation is beneficial to the whole group, and may be beneficial for the whole species."
So it looks like “monkey see, monkey do" really does have some truth to it. But what about you? When your sibling imitates you, is it just because he or she wants to annoy you? Or is it because he or she likes you and wants to bond with you? The next time your little sibling copies you, think like a monkey, enjoy it, and maybe even return the favor!