This time I have a question for you, the kind reader: can anyone tell me (or point me to a study that suggests) whether non-human animals practice their skills outside of a group?
On many a PBS nature documentary, you can find a gathering of young, fury things play-fighting one another to hone their hunting and social skills. However, human athletes will substitute physical competitors with imagined or abstracted ones. It’s common for athletes to compete against recorded times, high scores, or a mental reincarnations of a previous or idealized self during practice in the absence of a physically present opponent. And this sort of activity isn’t confined to sports like running or cycling. Full teams can visualize a routine or match performance for positive effect. Marines are instructed to imagine their hitting a target—and this sort of practice increases accuracy. These pretend opponents have real, demonstrable, and causal power. In short, human imagination is pretty powerful aid to skill acquisition, at least.
So let’s get back to my opening question: to what extent can non-human animals imagine? Please help me out if you can.
Technorati Tags: ethology, animal behavior, imagination, practice, skill, pretending, sociobiology
Squirrels use small leafy branches to “play fight” with. Its a riot watching them too!
Cool. I’ve never seen play fighting in squirrels. Now I’ll be on the look out for it.
When I was an undergraduate, there were always plenty of squirrels around. I especially liked when the landscapers put down a carpet of feltish, green fertilizer in the early spring. It made the little critters go bonkers. The computer scientists, of course, had their own fun with them: they went squirrel fishing.
As for imagination, Robert Mitchell edited a book called Pretending and imagination in animals and children in 2002 that might offer some answers. From what he wrote in the first chapter, I’m led to believe that people have observed what could be construed as imagintion in non-human primates. Part III of the book is dedicated to the details, but I haven’t made it there yet.