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It is absolutely necessary for humans to imitate others before they can become original and creative. Imitation is instinct for all animals and is used as a way to learn. Animals that leave their young before they have had a chance to develop have a much higher mortality rate than species that stay and teach their young. Sea turtles, for example, don’t stay with their young and never get the chance to teach them essential survival techniques. As a result, a large number of newly hatched sea turtles don’t even make it to sea.
There is a large mortality rate for newborn sea turtles because they have to learn everything on their own, and one false step could mean death. However, once turtles form a group, mortality rates lower because they are able to imitate each other and learn from others mistakes.
Imitating others is how all animals learn. Even newborn babies instinctively imitate their peers. A popular study showed that if a peer sticks their tongue out in front of a newborn baby, a large percentage of babies will stick theirs out too.
This shows that imitation is a natural instinct for humans. Think about how children learn to speak. Most are not sat down and taught their first language like a student in high school, but rather by picking up a word here, or a phrase there, from their peers. Babies imitate their parents by listening to the words and phrases they hear around the house and repeating them on their own.
This is also true for other species of animals. Chimps, for example, show a very strong instinct to imitate their peers. For example, if the leader of a chimpanzee clan picks up a stick to dig for dinner, a younger chimp will most likely follow suit. This is how species evolve. One smart individual discovers a new trick or procedure for doing something, and others imitate them.
Imitation is also important for learning. In life, school and sports, we all imitate someone else in some form. Babies imitate their parents when they start walking and talking. In school, students are taught to imitate their professors to learn. We are not given a completely new problem and asked to find the answer, but rather taught to watch a teacher work through the problem and given similar questions to do on our own that reinforce those principles. In sports, imitating our competitors is what makes the sport better. For example, in the 1980’s, swimmers were taught to do a double footed start. Then someone came along with a faster, staggered foot start and all their competitors eventually followed suit to keep up with their competition. Now, the only start you see in high level swim meets is the staggered start, all because swimmers were forced to imitate their competitors to keep up.
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