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The Social Side of Imitation

Authors


  • Harriet Over, Department for Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology; Malinda Carpenter, Department for Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Harriet Over, Department of Developmental and Comparative Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig 04103, Germany; e-mail: harriet_over@eva.mpg.de.

Abstract

Children's imitation is a profoundly social process. Although previous developmental accounts of imitation have focused on imitation as a way to learn from others, the current article stresses that imitation goes far beyond this: It is often intimately tied to children's need to belong to the group and their drive to affiliate with those around them. Accordingly, imitation is chiefly determined by the social motivations and pressures children experience within both interpersonal and intergroup settings. This perspective resolves an apparent paradox in the empirical literature, explaining why children sometimes copy selectively and sometimes copy faithfully (so-called overimitation). It also situates the developmental and comparative study of imitation and cultural transmission within a broader social-psychological framework, uniting it conceptually with research on mimicry, conformity, normativity, and group membership.

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