Process versus product in social learning: comparative diffusion tensor imaging of neural systems for action execution-observation matching in macaques, chimpanzees, and humans
Social learning varies among primate species. Macaques only copy the product of observed actions, or emulate, while humans and chimpanzees also copy the process, or imitate. In humans, imitation is linked to the mirror system. Here we compare mirror system connectivity across these species using diffusion tensor imaging. In macaques and chimpanzees, the preponderance of this circuitry consists of frontal-temporal connections via the extreme/external capsules. In contrast, humans have more substantial temporal-parietal and frontal-parietal connections via the middle/inferior longitudinal fasciculi and the third branch of the superior longitudinal fasciculus. In chimpanzees and humans, but not in macaques, this circuitry includes connections with inferior temporal cortex. In humans alone, connections with superior parietal cortex were also detected. We suggest a model linking species differences in mirror system connectivity and responsivity with species differences in behavior, including adaptations for imitation and social learning of tool use.
Cereb Cortex. 2013 May;23(5):1014-24. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs097. Epub 2012 Apr 25.