The Social Modulation of Imitation Fidelity in School-Age Children

Lauren Marsh, Danielle Ropar, Antonia Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
320 Downloads (Pure)


Children copy the actions of others with high fidelity, even when they are not causally relevant. This copying of visibly unnecessary actions is termed overimitation. Many competing theories propose mechanisms for overimitation behaviour. The present study examines these theories by studying the social factors that lead children to overimitate actions. Ninety-four children aged 5- to 8-years each completed five trials of an overimitation task. Each trial provided the opportunity to overimitate an action on familiar objects with minimal causal reasoning demands. Social cues (live or video demonstration) and eye contact from the demonstrator were manipulated. After the imitation, children's ratings of action rationality were collected. Substantial overimitation was seen which increased with age. In older children, overimitation was higher when watching a live demonstrator and when eye contact was absent. Actions rated as irrational were more likely to be imitated than those rated as rational. Children overimitated actions on familiar objects even when they rated those actions as irrational, suggesting that failure of causal reasoning cannot be driving overimitation. Our data support social explanations of overimitation and show that the influence of social factors increases with age over the 5- to 8-year-old age range.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jan 2014


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