Investigating the mechanisms of cultural acquisition: How pervasive is overimitation in adults?

Emma Flynn*, Kenny Smith

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Citations (Scopus)


High-fidelity copying is critical to the acquisition of culture. However, young children's high-fidelity imitation can result in overimitation, the copying of instrumentally irrelevant actions.We present a series of studies investigating whether adults too overimitate. Experiment 1 found that adults do overimitate, even when evaluation pressures were reduced (Experiment 2) and when participants were faced with a time pressure involving a monetary reward (Experiment 3). Only when participants were presented with a demonstration by someone they believed to be a fellow participant (Experiment 4) did less than half of them overimitate. Thus, overimitation appears to be a robust, adaptive process allowing the acquisition of new information in unfamiliar settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)185-195
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date05 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2012


  • Cultural evolution
  • Imitation
  • Observational learning
  • Overimitation
  • Social learning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Psychology(all)


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