When does it pay to follow the crowd? Children optimize imitation of causally-irrelevant actions performed by a majority

Cara L. Evans, Emily R. R. Burdett*, Keelin Murray, Malinda Carpenter

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

Cultural evolutionary theory posits that human cultural complexity rests on a set of adaptive learning biases that help to guide functionality and optimality in social learning, but this sits in contrast with the commonly held view that children are unselective “over-imitators.” Here, we tested whether 4- and 6-year-old children use social learning biases flexibly to fine-tune their copying of irrelevant actions. Children watched a video of a majority demonstrating causally irrelevant actions and a minority demonstrating only causally relevant actions. In one condition observers approved of the majority and disapproved of the minority, and in the other condition observers watched the majority and minority neutrally. Results showed that both 4- and 6-year-olds copied the inefficient majority more often than the efficient minority when the observers had approved of the majority’s actions, but they copied the efficient minority significantly more when the observers had watched neutrally. We discuss the implications of children’s optimal selectivity in copying and the importance of integrating social approval into majority-biased learning when acquiring norms and conventions and in broader processes of cultural evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105229
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Volume212
Early online date17 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Over-imitation
  • Majority bias
  • Cultural evolution
  • Social learning strategies
  • Social learning biases

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