Children's distinct drive to reproduce costly rituals

Mingxuan Zhao*, Frankie T. K. Fong, Andrew Whiten, Mark Nielsen

*Corresponding author for this work

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Costly rituals are ubiquitous and adaptive. Yet, little is known about how children develop to acquire them. The current study examined children's imitation of costly rituals. Ninety‐three 4–6 year olds (47 girls, 45% Oceanians, tested in 2022) were shown how to place tokens into a tube to earn stickers, using either a ritualistic or non‐ritualistic costly action sequence. Children shown the ritualistic actions imitated faithfully at the expense of gaining stickers; conversely, those shown the non‐ritualistic actions ignored them and obtained maximum reward. This highlights how preschool children are adept at and motivated to learn rituals, despite significant material cost. This study provides insights into the early development of cultural learning and the adaptive value of rituals in group cognition.
Original languageEnglish
JournalChild Development
VolumeEarly View
Early online date18 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Dec 2023


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