Skip to content

Research at St Andrews

Selective copying of the majority suggests children are broadly "optimal-" rather than "over-" imitators

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

DOI

Abstract

Human children, in contrast to other species, are frequently cast as prolific “over-imitators”. However, previous studies of “over-imitation” have overlooked many important real-world social dynamics, and may thus provide an inaccurate account of this seemingly puzzling and potentially maladaptive phenomenon. Here we investigate this topic using a cultural evolutionary approach, focusing particularly on the key adaptive learning strategy of majority-biased copying. Most “over-imitation” research has been conducted using consistent demonstrations to the observer, but we systematically varied the frequency of demonstrators that 4- to 6-year-old children observed performing a causally irrelevant action. Children who “over-imitate” inflexibly should copy the majority regardless of whether the majority solution omits or includes a causally irrelevant action. However, we found that children calibrated their tendency to acquire the majority behavior, such that copying did not extend to majorities that performed irrelevant actions. These results are consistent with a highly functional, adaptive integration of social and causal information, rather than explanations implying unselective copying or causal misunderstanding. This suggests that our species might be better characterized as broadly “optimal-” rather than “over-” imitators.
Close

Details

Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopmental Science
VolumeEarly View
Early online date17 Dec 2017
DOIs
StateE-pub ahead of print - 17 Dec 2017

    Research areas

  • Over-imitation, Majority-biased copying, Conformity, Cultural evolution, Cultural transmission, Social learning

Discover related content
Find related publications, people, projects and more using interactive charts.

View graph of relations

Related by author

  1. Evolutionary approaches to human behaviour

    Brown, G. R., Cross, C. P. & Laland, K. N. 2018 The Behaviour of Animals: Mechanisms, Function and Evolution; 2nd Edition; Ed. J. Bolhuis and L.-A. Giraldeau.

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

  2. Sex differences in confidence influence patterns of conformity

    Cross, C. P., Brown, G. R., Morgan, T. J. H. & Laland, K. N. Nov 2017 In : British Journal of Psychology. 108, 4, p. 655-667

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. New trends in evolutionary biology: biological, philosophical and social science perspectives

    Bateson, P., Cartwright, N., Dupre, J., Laland, K. & Noble, D. 6 Oct 2017 In : Interface Focus. 7, 5, 3 p., 20170051

    Research output: Contribution to journalEditorial

  4. Niche construction, sources of selection and trait coevolution

    Laland, K., Odling-Smee, J. & Endler, J. 6 Oct 2017 In : Interface Focus. 7, 5, 9 p., 20160147

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  5. Social information use and social learning in non-grouping fishes

    Webster, M. M. & Laland, K. N. 11 Sep 2017 In : Behavioural Ecology. 6 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Children infer affiliative and status relations from watching others imitate

    Over, H. & Carpenter, M. Nov 2015 In : Developmental Science. 18, 6, p. 917-925

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  2. The development of adaptive conformity in young children: effects of uncertainty and consensus

    Morgan, T. J., Laland, K. N. & Harris, P. L. Jul 2015 In : Developmental Science. 18, 4, p. 511-524 14 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  3. Target Article with Commentaries: Developmental niche construction

    Flynn, E. G., Laland, K. N., Kendal, R. L. & Kendal, J. R. Mar 2013 In : Developmental Science. 16, 2, p. 296-313 18 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

  4. The development of a greeting signal in wild chimpanzees

    Laporte, M. N. C. & Zuberbuehler, K. Sep 2011 In : Developmental Science. 14, 5, p. 1220-1234 15 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Related by journal

  1. Developmental Science (Journal)

    Gomez, J. (Editor)
    2005 → …

    Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial workEditor of research journal

ID: 251327467