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Durham University

School of Education

Research Projects

Publication details

Wood, L.A., Kendal, R.L. & Flynn, E.G. (2013). Copy you or copy me? The effect of prior personally-acquired, and alternative method, information on imitation. Cognition 127(2): 203-213.

Author(s) from Durham


The current study investigated children’s solution choice and imitation of causally-irrelevant actions by using a controlled design to mirror naturalistic learning contexts in which children receive social information for tasks about which they have some degree of prior knowledge. Five-year-old children (N = 167) were presented with a reward retrieval task and either given a social demonstration of a solution or no information, thus potentially acquiring a solution through personal exploration. Fifty-three children who acquired a solution either socially or asocially were then presented with an alternative solution that included irrelevant actions. Rather than remaining polarised to their initial solution like non-human animals, these children attempted the newly presented solution, incorporating both solutions into their repertoire. Such an adaptive and flexible learning strategy could increase task knowledge, provide generalizable knowledge in our tool-abundant culture and facilitate cumulative culture. Furthermore, children who acquired a solution through personally acquired information omitted subsequently demonstrated irrelevant actions to a greater extent than did children with prior social information. However, as some children with successful personally acquired information did copy the demonstrated irrelevant actions, we suggest that copying irrelevant actions may be influenced by social and causal cognition, resulting in an effective strategy which may facilitate acquisition of cultural norms when used discerningly.

School of Education