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Imitation and social learning in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)

Richards, Charlotte Louise Elizabeth; (2004) Imitation and social learning in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus). Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Imitation is a form of social learning in which animals leam responses through conspecific observation. It is considered to be unique as in order to imitate, animals must somehow translate visual information about the body movements of others into matching motor outputs. The psychological mechanism of imitation is not currently known although both complex and simple mechanisms have been proposed. The experiments reported in this thesis sought to obtain evidence of imitative abilities in a species of bird, the budgerigar {Melopsittacus undulatus). Eight experiments were run in total; two utilising a bidirectional control design, and six based on a two-action stopper paradigm. The pole bidirectional control procedures (Experiments 2.1 and 2.2) used a pole manipulandum. No evidence of social learning was obtained in these experiments, as bird responding was affected by cues external to the apparatus, suggesting that this paradigm was not ideal for investigating imitation. Experiments 3.1- 4.3 used a two-action paradigm in which observers saw a virtual demonstrator remove a stopper from a food box using either its feet (group Foot) or its beak (group Beak). In Experiment 3.1, birds in group Beak made proportionally more beak removals on test than birds in group Foot. However, social facilitation plus stimulus enhancement were potential explanations. Experiments 3.2 and 3.3 addressed the problem social facilitation using a conditional discrimination paradigm but results were not convincing. The final experiments (4 1- 4.3) introduced a delay between observation and testing in order to prevent social facilitation. Experiment 4.3 provided evidence of effector learning in the Beak, but not the Foot group. Imitation and higher order conditioning are both potential explanations for these results. The experiments with budgerigars therefore highlighted two additional factors, which require exclusion from imitation experiments. Although no conclusive evidence of imitation was obtained effector learning was seen using a virtual demonstrator and after a 24hour delay, suggesting that the two-action stopper paradigm has the potential to isolate imitative abilities in budgerigars.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Imitation and social learning in the budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus)
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Additional information: Thesis digitised by ProQuest.
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10097942
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