Developmental psychologists have always known children learn by imitating adults. Now, a new study of Australian preschoolers and Kalahari Bushman children finds that a particular kind of imitation — over-imitation, in which a child copies everything an adult shows them, not just the steps that lead to some outcome — appears to be a universal human activity. This research is usually done with children who live in Western cultures, whose parents are well-educated and middle- to upper class. And these parents are constantly teaching their children. Their study is published in Psychological Science , a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Modeling Behavior for Children Has Long-Lasting Effects
A young participant needlessly wipes a blue stick along a box's edge before using it to open the lid, just as his adult instructor did. The findings suggest that overimitation—in which a child copies everything an adult does, even irrelevant or silly actions—is a universal human trait that may contribute to our complex culture. Researchers already knew that overimitation was a human-specific quirk. When the instructing adult added irrelevant actions, such as brushing a feather along the edge of the box before opening it, the animal trainees skipped them, doing only what was necessary to get to the hidden toy. But human children copied every detail, even the pointless brush of the feather. Such parents tend to regularly teach and model behaviors for their children: for example, they frequently point out objects and explain what they are used for, or instruct their children step-by-step through a new activity, thus encouraging their children to view them as experts and overimitate them.
How Adults' Actions, Outcomes, and Testimony Affect Preschoolers' Persistence.
Lead researcher Dr Julia A. The children were from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Persistence was measured by how hard the children chose to work at the same task attempted by the adults, which was difficult and new to the children.
However, we know little about how parents and educators can help foster persistent behavior in children before they begin formal schooling. A new U. Leonard, MindCore postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, who led the study. The children were from a range of socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. Persistence was measured by how hard the children chose to work at the same task attempted by the adults, which was difficult and new to the children.