Cover image for The imitation factor : evolution beyond the gene
The imitation factor : evolution beyond the gene
Dugatkin, Lee Alan, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Free Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xi, 243 pages ; 23 cm
Subject Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
QL751 .D7465 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Is imitation really the best compliment? As Lee Alan Dugatkin's powerful work of cutting-edge science reveals, imitation is the most profound compliment you can give anyone. It might last for millions of years.

An acclaimed biologist, Dugatkin has identified and mapped the effects of a powerful, overlooked, and deceptively simple factor in evolutionary history. He shows how the imitation of one individual by another, in any species, is an essential and fundamental natural force that has enabled the growth of animal and human societies. Previously inexplicable animal behaviors become comprehensible in the light of Dugatkin's research: How can one group of monkeys all learn to use a new tool in one generation? There is no time for genetic evolution to achieve this, but the social system enabled by imitation manages it easily. Dugatkin also investigates the way we, and other species, select mates. Why do tiny sailfin molly fish have sex with another species? The somewhat disturbing truth is,simply, to impress the ladies. There can be no purely genetic, standard Darwinian explanation for it. Such fishy sex isn't all in the genes. Hum

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Dugatkin, biologist and science writer, spares the reader what he calls "the nasty mathematics" backing up his findings but provides a fascinating look at how the act of imitating affects evolution and culture. He offers interesting examples to prove theories on sexual and mating habits of barn swallows, scorpion flies, stalk-eyed flies, guppies, and humans as they imitate the behavior of others of their species and, thereby, transmit physical and cultural traits. Dugatkin reviews scientific findings from various disciplines and brings them together in a coherent picture of how humans and animals use the fundamental act of imitating to learn and adapt. Despite the human tendency to flatter ourselves that we're superior to animals, Dugatkin demonstrates how our behavior is quite similar to animals in the act of imitation and its value in transmitting culture and survival skills. Over millions of years, animals and humans have habitually imitated the behavior of those most successful at mating or hunting (or otherwise providing) thus preserving their species and guaranteeing survival. This is a very accessible, even entertaining, look at human and animal behavior and evolution. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Dugatkin (biology, Univ. of Louisville; Cheating Monkeys and Citizen Bees) turns the troubled concept of cultural Darwinism upside down by asking not how biological evolution affects culture but how culture affects biological evolutionDspecifically, in how living organisms select their mates. According to his research among species as simple as guppies and as complex as human beings, organisms tend to choose mates by observing the kinds of mates that others choose, then looking for similar characteristics in their own. Individual reproductive success may be enhanced by imitating others, but at a broader level, the impact that this may have upon whole cultures is a fertile area for future study. So much theory in evolutionary biology over the last 20 years has focused on reductionist genetics that this perspective will be welcome to readers of popular science. The text is very readable although somewhat breezy when the author writes in the first person. Like Susan Blackmore's The Meme Machine (LJ 4/1/99), this book deals with a new area of scientific research for general readers and is an important addition for public and undergraduate libraries. [Dugatkin's influential research in this area has received major coverage in the media, including the New York Times and Scientific American.DEd.]DGregg Sapp, SUNY at Albany Lib. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

The Imitation Factor is the most recent work from noted biologist Dugatkin, who has become one of the more authoritative voices in the field of ethology over the last ten years. Dugatkin here summarizes what is known--much of it courtesy of his work--about the role of imitation in the evolution of animal behavior, particularly regarding mate selection. Cultural transmission of information via imitation can be an incredibly rapid force in evolution, he argues, far outpacing genetic evolution, and thus such behaviors as the selection of mates by females may not, at least entirely, be genetically determined. Examples from his own research on guppies as well as other observations of grouse, whales, barn swallows, and mollies are intriguing, if not entirely convincing. The ideas here are certainly thought provoking, and this would be an excellent place to get some ideas for research papers (new college students) and real research (upper-division undergraduate and graduate students). This is more of a popular work than a scientific treatise, which makes it appropriate for all institutions. Dugatkin's experiments and observations will be discussed for a long time. Highly recommended. General readers; undergraduates through faculty. J. Nabe Brandeis University

Table of Contents

1 The Cultured Animal In which the discovery of culture in animals is reported
2 Genetic Love In which the failure of genetic determination to explain the choice of a mate is discussed
3 Guppy Love In which experiments by the author and others explaining culture and the choice of a mate are described
4 The Meaning of Culture In which the theoretical framework of culture is deconstructed
5 Meme Again In which the idea of discrete cultural particles is discussed
6 Are You My Type? In which culture and genes are shown to interact in surprising ways
7 Animal Civilization In which the mechanics of animal education, the most potent of social forces, are revealed
Afterword: Understanding Our Behavior Selected
Additional Readings