From over-imitation to super-copying: adults imitate causally irrelevant aspects of tool use with higher fidelity than young children

British Journal of Psychology
Nicola McGuiganAndrew Whiten


Recent research has revealed a striking tendency in young children to imitate even causally irrelevant actions, a phenomenon dubbed 'over-imitation'. To investigate whether children develop beyond this, we allowed both adults and children to witness either a child or adult model performing goal-relevant and goal-irrelevant actions to extract a reward from a transparent puzzle box. Surprisingly, copying of irrelevant actions increased with age, with the adults performing the task with less efficiency than the children. Participants of all ages were more likely to perform the irrelevant actions performed by an adult model, than by a child model. These results suggest that people may become more imitative as they mature, whilst selectively copying particular models with a high level of fidelity. We suggest that this combination of faithful copying and selectivity underwrites the powerful social learning necessary for the level of cultural transmission on which our species depends.


Jun 1, 1997·The Journal of Genetic Psychology·E Abravanel, N G DeYong
Jul 14, 1999·Journal of Personality and Social Psychology·T L Chartrand, J A Bargh
Nov 5, 1999·Child Development·R Barr, H Hayne
Mar 16, 2000·The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. A, Human Experimental Psychology·H BekkeringM Gattis
Aug 19, 2000·Journal of Personality and Social Psychology·R Neumann, F Strack
Feb 15, 2002·Nature·György GergelyIldikó Király
Apr 12, 2003·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Andreas WohlschlägerHarold Bekkering
Sep 23, 2003·Journal of Comparative Psychology·Alexandra C Horowitz
Jan 14, 2004·Psychological Science·Rick B van BaarenAd van Knippenberg
Sep 28, 2004·Psychological Science·Melissa A KoenigPaul L Harris
Nov 9, 2005·Child Development·Melissa A Koenig, Paul L Harris
Aug 30, 2006·Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America·Victoria HornerFrans B M de Waal
Sep 21, 2006·Psychological Science·Vikram K Jaswal, Leslie A Neely
Oct 25, 2006·Developmental Science·Andrew WhitenTanya Lee
Dec 22, 2006·Developmental Science·György GergelyIldikó Király
Dec 7, 2007·Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America·Derek E LyonsFrank C Keil
Jan 16, 2008·Developmental Psychology·Rebecca A WilliamsonEllen M Markman
Sep 20, 2008·Developmental Science·Mark NielsenLinda Jenkins
Mar 17, 2009·Trends in Cognitive Sciences·Gergely Csibra, György Gergely
Jul 22, 2009·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Claudio TennieMichael Tomasello
Jul 22, 2009·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Andrew WhitenLydia M Hopper
Aug 15, 2009·Science·Josep Call, Malinda Carpenter
Jan 5, 2010·Infant and Child Development·Mieke Vanderborght, Vikram K Jaswal
May 21, 2010·Psychological Science·Mark Nielsen, Keyan Tomaselli
Nov 1, 2000·Developmental Science·Brigitte GleissnerHarold Bekkering

❮ Previous
Next ❯


Aug 16, 2011·Annual Review of Psychology·Chris D Frith, Uta Frith
Mar 2, 2011·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Derek E LyonsFrank C Keil
Jun 27, 2012·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Nicholas Shea
Jan 18, 2016·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Cristina-Andreea MoraruNicola McGuigan
Feb 7, 2012·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Mark NielsenJumana Mohamedally
Jul 26, 2011·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Cara DiyanniWhitney Rheel
Oct 4, 2011·Cognitive Development·Rebecca A Williamson, Andrew N Meltzoff
Mar 2, 2016·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Emma FlynnLuc-Alain Giraldeau
Nov 6, 2015·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Samuel RonfardPaul L Harris
Jul 13, 2012·Developmental Psychobiology·Kelly DickersonRachel Barr
Aug 2, 2013·The British Journal of Developmental Psychology·Sonja P BrubacherSukhvinder S Obhi
Nov 21, 2012·Autism Research : Official Journal of the International Society for Autism Research·Mark NielsenCheryl Dissanayake
Mar 26, 2016·Child Development·Nicola McGuiganRory Glasgow
Jul 6, 2015·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Lara A WoodEmma G Flynn
Apr 22, 2015·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Nicola McGuigan, Stacey Robertson
Feb 27, 2014·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Stefanie HoehlSabina Pauen
Feb 20, 2014·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Elizabeth E Austin, Naomi Sweller
Jun 19, 2013·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Nicola McGuigan
Mar 5, 2013·Cognition·Lara A WoodEmma G Flynn
Jan 8, 2015·Frontiers in Psychology·Mark NielsenEmma Collier-Baker
Oct 9, 2014·Frontiers in Psychology·John Z Elias, Kristian Tylén
Apr 6, 2012·PloS One·Mark NielsenJumana Mohamedally
Aug 1, 2012·PloS One·Lucy G ChekeNicola S Clayton
Jan 28, 2014·PloS One·Lauren E MarshAntonia F de C Hamilton
Jul 3, 2016·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Lara A WoodAndrew Whiten
Aug 24, 2016·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Peter R BlakeFelix Warneken
Oct 21, 2015·Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences·Andrew Whiten
Jan 5, 2017·Annual Review of Psychology·Andrew Whiten
Jan 27, 2017·Social Neuroscience·Dominic OliverAntonia F de C Hamilton
Jan 23, 2017·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Nicola McGuigan, Vanessa Burgess
Sep 27, 2015·Journal of Experimental Child Psychology·Francys SubiaulCynthia Core
Mar 13, 2018·Developmental Science·Gregor KachelMichael Tomasello
Nov 14, 2017·Personality and Social Psychology Review : an Official Journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc·Nicholas M HobsonMichael Inzlicht

❮ Previous
Next ❯

Related Concepts

Trending Feeds


Coronaviruses encompass a large family of viruses that cause the common cold as well as more serious diseases, such as the ongoing outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19; formally known as 2019-nCoV). Coronaviruses can spread from animals to humans; symptoms include fever, cough, shortness of breath, and breathing difficulties; in more severe cases, infection can lead to death. This feed covers recent research on COVID-19.

Evolution of Pluripotency

Pluripotency refers to the ability of a cell to develop into three primary germ cell layers of the embryo. This feed focuses on the mechanisms that underlie the evolution of pluripotency. Here is the latest research.

Nuclear Pore Complex in ALS/FTD

Alterations in nucleocytoplasmic transport, controlled by the nuclear pore complex, may be involved in the pathomechanism underlying multiple neurodegenerative diseases including Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis and Frontotemporal Dementia. Here is the latest research on the nuclear pore complex in ALS and FTD.

Epigenetics Insights from Twin Studies

Find the latest research on epigenetics and twin studies here.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease characterized by unexplained disabling fatigue; the pathology of which is incompletely understood. Discover the latest research on chronic fatigue syndrome here.


Microbicides are products that can be applied to vaginal or rectal mucosal surfaces with the goal of preventing, or at least significantly reducing, the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Here is the latest research on microbicides.

Applications of Molecular Barcoding

The concept of molecular barcoding is that each original DNA or RNA molecule is attached to a unique sequence barcode. Sequence reads having different barcodes represent different original molecules, while sequence reads having the same barcode are results of PCR duplication from one original molecule. Discover the latest research on molecular barcoding here.

Regulation of Vocal-Motor Plasticity

Dopaminergic projections to the basal ganglia and nucleus accumbens shape the learning and plasticity of motivated behaviors across species including the regulation of vocal-motor plasticity and performance in songbirds. Discover the latest research on the regulation of vocal-motor plasticity here.

Myocardial Stunning

Myocardial stunning is a mechanical dysfunction that persists after reperfusion of previously ischemic tissue in the absence of irreversible damage including myocardial necrosis. Here is the latest research.