Do children copy an expert or a majority? Examining selective learning in instrumental and normative contexts

Emily R. R. Burdett, Amanda J. Lucas, Daphna Buchsbaum, Nicola McGuigan, Lara A. Wood, Andrew Whiten

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This study examined whether instrumental and normative learning contexts differentially influence 4- to 7-year-old children’s social learning strategies; specifically, their dispositions to copy an expert versus a majority consensus. Experiment 1 (N = 44) established that children copied a relatively competent “expert” individual over an incompetent individual in both kinds of learning context. In experiment 2 (N = 80) we then tested whether children would copy a competent individual versus a majority, in each of the two different learning contexts. Results showed that individual children differed in strategy, preferring with significant consistency across two different test trials to copy either the competent individual or the majority. This study is the first to show that children prefer to copy more competent individuals when shown competing methods of achieving an instrumental goal (Experiment 1) and provides new evidence that children, at least in our “individualist” culture, may consistently express either a competency or majority bias in learning both instrumental and normative information (Experiment 2). This effect was similar in the instrumental and normative learning contexts we applied.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0164698
Number of pages20
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 21 Oct 2016
Externally publishedYes


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