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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Flynn, E. & Smith, K. (2012). Investigating the mechanisms of cultural acquisition: How pervasive is overimitation in adults? Social Psychology 43(4): 185-195.

Author(s) from Durham


High-fidelity copying is critical to the acquisition of culture. However, young children’s high-fidelity imitation can result in overimitation, the copying of instrumentally irrelevant actions. We present a series of studies investigating whether adults too overimitate. Experiment 1 found that adults do overimitate, even when evaluation pressures were reduced (Experiment 2) and when participants were faced with a time pressure involving a monetary reward (Experiment 3). Only when participants were presented with a demonstration by someone they believed to be a fellow participant (Experiment 4) did less than half of them overimitate. Thus, overimitation appears to be a robust, adaptive process allowing the acquisition of new information in unfamiliar settings.

School of Education