Conformity and over-imitation: an integrative review of variant forms of hyper-reliance on social learning

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

13 Citations (Scopus)


Variant forms of conformity and over-imitation have become prominent in the research literatures on the transmission of culture, because each displays particularly high levels of reliance on social learning, potentially much strengthening the fidelity and longevity of traditions. Despite this apparent similarity, the literatures on conformity and over-imitation have rarely cross-referenced each other. The objective of the present review is to rectify this theoretical lacuna, considering in depth both what the two processes share and how they differ. Conformity, originally in the literature on social influence and human culture but addressed increasingly in animal studies, has been dissected into a number of forms distinguished in this review, but most commonly has referred to a disposition to copy majority behaviors in an individual’s group or other relevant population. Over-imitation, by contrast, refers to an individual’s disposition to copy visibly causally irrelevant components of action sequences even when performed by a single individual. In this review I compare and contrast these two processes, distinguishing a suite of functional and causal factors to explain their occurrence and adaptive significance. Functions appear to span informational, relationship-building and normative contexts. These analyses form a foundation on which to consider why forms of conformity appear increasingly to be widespread in the animal kingdom, whereas over-imitation appears a disposition universal in human cultures yet minimal or absent in non-human animals tested in similar contexts.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAdvances in the Study of Behavior
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Jan 2019

Publication series

NameAdvances in the Study of Behavior
PublisherAcademic Press Inc.
ISSN (Print)0065-3454


  • Conformity
  • Conformist bias
  • Conformist transmission
  • Over-imitation
  • Social learning
  • Culture
  • Cultural transmission


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