Carry-over effects of tool functionality and previous unsuccessfulness increase overimitation in children

Aurélien Frick, Hanna Schleihauf, Liam Satchell, Thibaud Gruber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Children ‘overimitate’ causally irrelevant actions in experiments where both irrelevant and relevant actions involve a single common tool. This study design may make it harder for children to recognize the irrelevant actions, as the perceived functionality of the tool during the demonstration of the relevant action may be carried over to the irrelevant action, potentially increasing overimitation. Moreover, little is known how overimitation is affected by the demonstrator's expressed emotions and the child's prior success with the task. Here, 131 nine- to ten-year-old French and German children first engaged in a tool-based task, being successful or unsuccessful, and then watched an adult demonstrating the solution involving one irrelevant and one relevant action before smiling or remaining neutral. These actions were performed with the same tool or with two separate tools, testing potential carry-over effects of the functionality of the relevant action on the irrelevant action. We show that overimitation was higher when the same tool was used for both actions and when children were previously unsuccessful, but was not affected by the demonstrator's displayed emotion. Our results suggest that future overimitation research should account for the number of tools used in a demonstration and participants' previous task experience.
Original languageEnglish
JournalRoyal Society Open Science
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jul 2021

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