A new study has suggested that kids do not automatically imitate adults for every single thing. Rather, they pick and choose what they themselves wish to copy, and adapt their behaviour to their particular goals of imitating. The findings have been published in the journal Cognition.
Researchers from the University of Texas have found that while children are often copy-cats of the adults in their lives, they choose which behaviour to imitate from them and when to bring in their own additions.
“There’s nothing children are more interested in than other people,” UT Austin psychologist Cristine Legare said in a news release. “Acquiring the skills and practices of their social groups is the fundamental task of childhood.”
The scientists affirm that kids are flexible enough to adapt their behaviour as per conventional (which includes kiss, handshakes, and bowing) and instrumental goals (like using forks to cut food).
“The more carefully you imitate a social convention, the better, more reliable group member you are. Tasks with instrumental goals allow for more innovation,” Legare said. “Young children adjust how carefully they imitate and when they innovate, depending on the perceived goal of the behavior or reason for action.”
“We are socially oriented in ways that other species are not, and we are very well equipped to acquire and adapt to the culture and skills of previous generations,” Legare concluded. “The core insight here is that children adapt their imitative and innovative behavior to different goals, even at very young ages, demonstrating that humans as a species are flexible, social learners. Our research demonstrates that the early-developing distinction between instrumental and conventional behavior is fundamental to cultural learning in our species.”