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Children infer affiliative and status relations from watching others imitate

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JournalDevelopmental Science
DateE-pub ahead of print - 20 Dec 2014
DatePublished (current) - Nov 2015
Issue number6
Pages (from-to)917-925
Early online date20/12/14
Original languageEnglish


We investigated whether young children are able to infer affiliative relations and relative status from observing others’ imitative interactions. Children watched videos showing one individual imitating another and were asked about the relationship between those individuals. Experiment 1 showed that 5-year-olds assume individuals imitate people they like. Experiment 2 showed that children of the same age assume that an individual who imitates is relatively low in status. Thus, although there are many advantages to imitating others, there may also be reputational costs. Younger children, 4-year-olds, did not reliably make either inference. Taken together, these experiments demonstrate that imitation conveys valuable information about third-party relationships and that, at least by the age of five, children are able to use this information in order to infer who is allied with whom and who is dominant over whom. In doing so, they add a new dimension to our understanding of the role of imitation in human social life.

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© 2014 John Wiley & Sons Ltd. This is an author produced version of a paper published in Developmental Science. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.

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