Chimps open the box in the quickest, simplest possible way to get the food. But young children will carefully imitate the shown procedure to open the box, doing the extra unnecessary steps. Lyons believes he has demonstrated that humans have a trait, a desire to over-imitate, that generally turns out well for us. He has illustrated the trait by artificially constructing a test situation in which over-imitation appears to be a wasted effort.
Here, according to the reporter, is Mr. Lyons' take on imitation: "It is so adaptive that it almost never sticks out this way, ... You have to create very artificial circumstances to see it."
I'm afraid that examples of over imitating may not be so hard to find:
- The very unfunctional clothes we wear to work, especially:
- The lack of variety in companies I've worked at.
- Similarities in supermarkets and stores.
- The Nigerian Scam...
Incidentally, Lyons' experiment uses 3 and 4 year old children. I wonder how this experiment would go with 6 or 9 year olds? (A New York Times letter-writer reported that adult humans act more like chimps.)