Emulate and Imitate

Veri ApriyatnoEmulation refers to the ability to copy the final product of an action, while imitation refers to the ability to copy a process. Monkeys mostly emulate, while apes are capable of some degree of imitation. Humans are unique in their complex levels of imitation. According to a DTI analysis by Erin Hecht and colleagues, there is an increase in the ratio fronto-parietal vs fronto-temporal connectivity from monkeys to apes to humans, which is a possible substrate for the evolutionary shift from emulation to imitation. In humans, the increased parietal connectivity could be related to increased visuo-spatial mapping ability during behavioural learning. Despite the difficulties when working with such complex behavioural categories, imitation is a basic feature for social learning, and for culture in general. And it seems that here we have yet more evidence of the involvement of the parietal areas in human evolution, linked to features specific to the modern human brain.

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2 Responses to “Emulate and Imitate”


  1. 1 Erin Hecht May 23, 2013 at 18:13

    Thanks for featuring our findings! Our DTI results are consistent with your findings that parietal cortex has undergone neuroanatomical changes in hominid evolution. In looking at connectivity networks linking inferior parietal, inferior frontal, and lateral temporal regions, we saw relatively increased connectivity with the inferior parietal node of the network in humans. We also saw a superior parietal connection in this network that was evident in humans but not in macaque monkeys or chimpanzees. So, these DTI results are consistent with the idea that human parietal cortex has evolved new regions and/or new functions that support new behavioral/cognitive abilities. We hope to have some new papers soon, giving a more in-depth analysis of these connectivity networks and comparing activation differences in these regions in chimpanzees and humans. It seems there is more and more research from different labs pointing toward a role for parietal cortex in the evolution of human cognition… certainly an active and interesting area of research!

  2. 2 emilianobruner May 24, 2013 at 12:16

    Yes, now there is a lot of converging evidence, despite the scarce attention to these brain areas until a few years ago. Unfortunately we still lack volumetric data on apes’ parietal comparative neuroanatomy. The main problem there is homology, and the lack of clear and standard morphological boundaries. The role of the fronto-parietal network is definitely emerging as a relevant component in human brain evolution.

    Thanks for your comment, Erin!
    Looking forward to reading your future advances on these topics …


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