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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Flynn, E (2008). Investigating children as cultural magnets: Do young children transmit redundant information along diffusion chains? Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B 363(1509): 3541-3551.

Author(s) from Durham


The primary goal of this study was to investigate cultural transmission in young children, with specific reference to the phenomenon of overimitation. Diffusion chains were used to compare the imitation of 2- and 3-year-olds on a task in which the initial child in each chain performed a series of relevant and irrelevant actions on a puzzle box in order to retrieve a reward. Children in the chains witnessed the actions performed on one of two boxes, one which was transparent and so the lack of causality of the irrelevant actions was obvious, while the other was opaque and so the lack of causal relevance was not obvious. Unlike previous dyadic research in which children overimitate a model, the irrelevant actions were parsed out early in the diffusion chains. Even though children parsed out irrelevant actions, they showed fidelity to the method used to perform a relevant action both within dyads and across groups. This was true of 3-year-olds, and also 2-year-olds, therefore extending findings from previous research.

School of Education