Copy me or copy you? The effect of prior experience on social learning

Lara A. Wood*, Rachel L. Kendal, Emma G. Flynn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)


The current study investigated children's solution choice and imitation of causally-irrelevant actions by using a controlled design to mirror naturalistic learning contexts in which children receive social information for tasks about which they have some degree of prior knowledge. Five-year-old children (N=. 167) were presented with a reward retrieval task and either given a social demonstration of a solution or no information, thus potentially acquiring a solution through personal exploration. Fifty-three children who acquired a solution either socially or asocially were then presented with an alternative solution that included irrelevant actions. Rather than remaining polarised to their initial solution like non-human animals, these children attempted the newly presented solution, incorporating both solutions into their repertoire. Such an adaptive and flexible learning strategy could increase task knowledge, provide generalizable knowledge in our tool-abundant culture and facilitate cumulative culture. Furthermore, children who acquired a solution through personally acquired information omitted subsequently demonstrated irrelevant actions to a greater extent than did children with prior social information. However, as some children with successful personally acquired information did copy the demonstrated irrelevant actions, we suggest that copying irrelevant actions may be influenced by social and causal cognition, resulting in an effective strategy which may facilitate acquisition of cultural norms when used discerningly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-213
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Early online date1 Mar 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Social learning
  • Source of information
  • Imitation
  • Irrelevant actions
  • Overimitation


Dive into the research topics of 'Copy me or copy you? The effect of prior experience on social learning'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this