The interaction of social and perceivable causal factors in shaping ‘over-imitation’

Emily R.R. Burdett, Nicola McGuigan, Rachel Harrison, Andrew Whiten

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    14 Citations (Scopus)
    46 Downloads (Pure)


    Over-imitation has become a well-documented phenomenon. However there is evidence that both social and visible, physically causal factors can influence the occurrence of over-imitation in children. Here we explore the interplay between these two factors, manipulating both task opacity and social information. Four- to 7-year-old children were given either a causally opaque or transparent box, before which they experienced either (1) a condition where they witnessed a taught, knowledgeable person demonstrate an inefficient method and an untaught model demonstrate a more efficient method; or (2) a baseline condition where they witnessed efficient and inefficient methods performed by two untaught models. Results showed that the level of imitation increased with greater task opacity and when children received social information about knowledgeability consequent on teaching, but only for 6- to 7-year-olds. The findings show that children are selectively attuned to both causal and social factors when learning new cultural knowledge.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)8-18
    Number of pages11
    JournalCognitive Development
    Early online date24 Feb 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


    • Over-imitation
    • Selective learning
    • Cultural learning
    • Social learning


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