Frontiers in Psychology
Children are exceptional, even 'super,' imitators but comparatively poor independent problem-solvers or innovators. Yet, imitation and innovation are both necessary components of cumulative cultural evolution. Here, we explored the relationship between imitation and innovation by assessing children's ability to generate a solution to a novel problem by imitating two different action sequences demonstrated by two different models, an example of imitation by combination, which we refer to as "summative imitation." Children (N = 181) from 3 to 5 years of age and across three experiments were tested in a baseline condition or in one of six demonstration conditions, varying in the number of models and opening techniques demonstrated. Across experiments, more than 75% of children evidenced summative imitation, opening both compartments of the problem box and retrieving the reward hidden in each. Generally, learning different actions from two different models was as good (and in some cases, better) than learning from 1 model, but the underlying representations appear to be the same in both demonstration conditions. These results show that summative imitation not only facilitates imitation learning but can also result in new solutions to problems, an essential feature of innovation and cumulative culture.
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Subiaul F, Krajkowski E, Price EE and Etz A. (2015). Imitation by combination: preschool age children evidence summative imitation in a novel problem-solving task. Frontiers in Psychology, 6:1410. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01410.