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The Imitation Factor: Evolution Beyond The Gene Hardcover – January 8, 2001

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Editorial Reviews Review

Everyone knows "monkey see, monkey do," but how many of us reflect on the proverb's consequences? Biologist Lee Alan Dugatkin asks just how different animals can be from humans if they engage, as they seem to, in cultural transmission of behavior. Long thought to be one of the last barriers between H. sapiens and the rest of the family, imitation can be found even in fish--and Dugatkin's book, The Imitation Factor: Evolution Beyond the Gene, explores the research on the subject and its implications. His straightforward, accessible style serves him and the reader well. Though there are no tough equations or metaphysical concepts to bar the way to understanding, the delicacy of behavioral research can be tricky to communicate properly. Summarizing his points, he says:

The zoological work on cultural evolution reveals strange and even amazing facts about animals no matter how large or small their brains are--indeed, some just barely have what we can call a brain. The actions of a few individuals, or even just a single one, can dramatically shift the evolutionary future of a particular population fundamentally because individuals are keen copiers.

The author presents his own and others' research into imitative learning and makes a compelling case for its ubiquity. He suggests that a vast range of behavioral science is hampered by its reliance on biological (especially genetic) explanations, and that researchers would do well to sift more carefully between nature and nurture. It's an intriguing notion, and makes The Imitation Factor well worth reading--and besides, everyone else is doing it. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

The dominant paradigm in evolutionary biology asserts that genes are responsible for virtually all manifestations of animal behavior while the environment plays a small role. In a thoroughly engaging, accessible manner, Dugatkin, professor of biology at the University of Louisville, challenges "that assumption by presenting the case that cultural transmission and gene-culture interactions are serious, underestimated forces in evolutionary biology." He analyzes a broad array of behavioral studies conducted by himself, his students and many other scientists to demonstrate that animals imitate each other regularly, learn new behaviors from this mimesis and even engage in activities that are best called teaching. By presenting behavioral examples of simple and complex animals ranging from guppies to macaques, from blackbirds to humans, he proves that large brains are not a prerequisite for imitation. Even more important, Dugatkin establishes these actions as constituents of culture, which many scientists limit to humans. Dugatkin explains scientific method superbly and conveys the thrill of designing an ingenious experiment. His theories and supporting evidence will inspire even the most skeptical readers to rethink humans' place in the animal kingdom. Anyone interested in the nature/culture debate will learn something new from Dugatkin. (Jan.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (January 8, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684864533
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684864532
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 0.9 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,764,522 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose" brings together my two loves: American History (especially Revolutionary War era history) and Biology. I have never had as much fun researching and writing a book as I did with "Mr. Jefferson and the Giant Moose." I hope it brings you as much joy as it brought me.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Raymond O. Recchia on June 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Lee Alan Dugatkin has spent the last ten years studying imitation in guppies and in "The Imitation Factor" he explains his research and summarizes numerous other examples of imitation found in nature. His conclusion: even low intelligence animals like guppies can engage in the non-genetic transmission of behavior through imitation, and that transmission can have an impact on genetic evolution.
In carefully controlled experiments using guppies Dr. Dugatkin explores how the tendency to imitate other females in mate selection can override other mate selection preferences. Female guppies of a certain species prefer bright orange males over drab gray ones. Dugatkin places a female and a dull male in one corner of a tank and a bright male in the other and then allows a second female to observe the guppy groupings. Then the first female is removed and the observer female is allowed to choose which male to go to. The observer female shows a greater tendency to select the male she saw with the first female (Yes there is a control to make certain that the observer is not just going to the side of the tank where there were two guppies). Further, after repeated exposure to females associated with drab males, the observer female shows a preference for drab males in general.
Beyond his own research Dugatkin also details the research of others on imitation in animals. Examples include some very carefully controlled experiments with pigeons poking open boxes to get food, blackbirds learning which animals are predators, numerous studies of chimpanzees and rats who learn which foods are edible from their presence on other rat's whiskers.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Marc Bekoff on January 12, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book - clearly written, authoritative, up-to-date, and fun. I recommend it to all people interested not only in the study of animal (and human) behavior, but also to those who want a good read about what researchers are up to. Dugatkin is a first-class biologist and a great writer with a good sense of humor.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on March 9, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lee Alan Dugatkin is a first-rate animal behavior experimentalist whose specialty is the guppy, as well as a game-theoretic modeler. Most welcome is Dugatkin's talent for popular exposition of animal behavior research.
This book is a very general exposition of animal behavior theory for the general public, with a special emphasis on epigenetic transmission of information, which Dugatkin equates with cultural transmission. He does quite a good job, and I would recommend this book to curious newcomers to the field. Dugatkin is especially good at weaving general themes (e.g., the various explanations of mate choice) with the specifics of particular
My concern here will be as an animal behaviorist whose specialty is human beings. Humans come into the picture in the first sentence of Dugatkin's book: "We desperately want to think of ourselves as somehow distinct from other life forms on our planet...Currently there is the sense that we are unique because
"culture" is found only in humans...As we shall see, culture is not humanity's gift to the universe." (p. ix). There is no doubt but that Dugatkin is correct, and indeed, it is impossible to understand human culture as divorced from the broad sweep of cultural phenomena across species. The attempt to do so is a major flaw in sociological and anthropological approaches to human culture--but that is another story to tell.
While Dugatkin's assertion is correct, and his efforts to motivate his position are quite successful, it is curious that he does not place his argument in intellectual context.
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