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The question whether a certain species is or is not able to imitate has received much recent attention. However, the ability to copy a demonstrated action might depend not only on the imitative ability of the observer but also on its attention, a factor widely neglected in discussions and experiments. Since attention differs between species as well as between individuals, it is likely to influence the amount and type of information different species and/or observers may extract from a given demonstration. We studied attention in common marmosets, Callithrix jacchus. In a series of experimental sessions, individual marmosets watched different conspecific models that were searching, manipulating an object and feeding. The observers could see the demonstration through two observation holes, which allowed us to measure exactly how often and for how long they watched the model. Marmosets were more attentive towards conspecifics engaged in a problem-solving task than an exploring model. Individual variation in attention was large, ranging from less than 10% to over 49%. Attention also depended on the identity of the model with an increase in attention if it was of the opposite sex. Overall, attention of marmosets was short with a median duration of 6 s while the model manipulated an object. This study measured the real interest of the observer towards a model, which could be an important variable in social-learning experiments. (C) 2007 The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.