Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior

Living Edition
| Editors: Jennifer Vonk, Todd Shackelford


  • Rachel E. Watson-JonesEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_1581-1


The exactness with which an agent reproduces the observed behavior of another individual or group. Copying (also called imitative) fidelity can be thought of as a spectrum from high to low and encompasses various social learning strategies.

Copying fidelity and imitation have been characterized in a variety of ways throughout the literature on social learning. Research on social learning has primarily come from comparative programs focusing on how children, and other species (primarily apes and monkeys) learn from others to acquire problem-solving, instrumental skills. Much of the previous literature has examined the physical-causal information required to allow children, and other animals, to accurately copy an instrumental action sequence. The focus on the role of physical-causal reasoning in social learning led to attempts to define social learning mechanisms based on what features of an action sequence children, and other animals, accurately replicate. Much of this...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Bekkering, H., Wohlschlager, A., & Gattis, M. (2000). Imitation of gestures in children is goal-directed. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 53A(1), 153–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bird, G., Brindley, R., Leighton, J., & Heyes, C. (2007). General processes, rather than “goals,” explain imitation errors. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 33, 1158–1169.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Brewer, M. (2007). The importance of being we: Human nature and intergroup relations. American Psychologist, 62(8), 728–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Buss, D. M., & Kenrick, D. (1998). Evolutionary social psychology. In D. T. Gilbert, S. T. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (Eds.), The handbook of social psychology (4th ed., pp. 982–1026). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Carpenter, M., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2005). Twelve- and 18-month-olds copy actions in terms of goals. Developmental Science, 8, F13–F20.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Clegg, J. M., & Legare, C. H. (2016). Instrumental and conventional interpretations of behavior are associated with distinct outcomes in early childhood. Child Development, 87(2), 527–542.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2003). Teleological reasoning about actions: The naïve theory of rational action. Trends in Cognitive Science, 7, 287–292.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Gergely, G., & Csibra, G. (2006). Sylvia’s recipe: The role of imitation and pedagogy in the transmission of human culture. In N. J. Enfield & S. C. Levinson (Eds.), Roots of human sociality: Culture, cognition and human interaction (pp. 229–255). Oxford: Berg Publishers.Google Scholar
  9. Herrmann, P. A., Legare, C. H., Harris, P. L., & Whitehouse, H. (2013). Stick to the script: The effect of witnessing multiple actors on children’s imitation. Cognition, 129, 536–543.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Heyes, C. (2001). Causes and consequences of imitation. Trends in Cognitive Science, 5(6), 253–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Heyes, C. (2005). Imitation by association. In S. Hurley & N. Chater (Eds.), Perspectives on imitation: From neuroscience to social science (Vol. 1, pp. 157–176). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  12. Heyes, C. (2013). What can imitation do for cooperation? In B. Calcott, R. Joyce, & K. Sterelny (Eds.), Signalling, commitment, and cooperation. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  13. Heyes, C., & Ray, E. (2002). Distinguishing intention-sensitive and outcome-sensitive imitation. Developmental Science, 5(1), 34–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Horner, V., & Whiten, A. (2005). Causal knowledge and imitation/emulation switching in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens). Animal Cognition, 8, 164–181.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Legare, C. H., & Watson-Jones, R. E. (2015). The evolution and ontogeny of ritual. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 829–847). Hoboken: Wiley.Google Scholar
  16. Legare, C. H., Wen, N. J., Herrmann, P. A., & Whitehouse, H. (2015). Imitative flexibility and the development of cultural learning. Cognition, 142, 351–361.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Leighton, J., Bird, G., & Heyes, C. (2010). “Goals” are not an integral component of imitation. Cognition, 114, 423–435.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. Lyons, D. E., Young, A. G., & Keil, F. C. (2007). The hidden structure of overimitation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(50), 19751–19756.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McGuigan, N., Whiten, A., Flynn, E., & Horner, V. (2007). Imitation of causally opaque versus causally transparent tool use by 3- and 5-year-old children. Cognitive Development, 22, 353–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2009). Priming third party ostracism increases affiliative imitation in children. Developmental Science, 12(3), F1–F8.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  21. Tennie, C., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2006). Push or pull: Imitation vs. emulation in great apes and human children. Ethology, 112, 1159–1169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Tomasello, M. (1990). Cultural transmission in the tool use and communicatory signaling of chimpanzees? In S. Parker & K. Gibson (Eds.), Language and intelligence in monkeys and apes: Comparative developmental perspectives (pp. 274–311). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Tomasello, M. (1996). Do apes ape? In C. M. Heyes & B. G. Galef Jr. (Eds.), Social learning in animals: The roots of culture (pp. 319–346). London: Academic Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Tomasello, M., Kruger, A. C., & Ratner, H. H. (1993). Cultural learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 495–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tomasello, M., Carpenter, M., Call, J., Behan, T., & Moll, H. (2005). Understanding and sharing intentions: The origins of cultural cognition. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28, 675–735.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  26. Watson-Jones, R. E., & Legare, C. H. (2016). The social functions of group rituals. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 25(1), 42–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Watson-Jones, R. E., Legare, C. H., Whitehouse, H., & Clegg, J. M. (2014). Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitative fidelity in early childhood. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35(3), 204–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Watson-Jones, R. E., Whitehouse, H., & Legare, C. H. (2016). In-group ostracism increases high-fidelity imitation in early childhood. Psychological Science, 27(1), 34–42.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  29. Wen, N. J., Herrmann, P. A., & Legare, C. H. (2016). Ritual increases children’s affiliation with in-group members. Evolution and Human Behavior, 37, 54–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Whiten, A., & Ham, R. (1992). On the nature and evolution of imitation in the animal kingdom: Reappraisal of a century of research. In P. J. B. Slater, J. S. Rosenblatt, C. Beer, & M. Milinski (Eds.), Advances in the study of behavior (Vol. 1, pp. 239–283). New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  31. Whiten, A., Custance, D., Gomez, J., Teixidor, P., & Bard, K. (1996). Imitative learning of artificial fruit processing in children (Homo sapiens) and chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 110(1), 3–14.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Whiten, A., Horner, V., Litchfield, C. A., & Marshall-Pescini, S. (2004). How do apes ape? Learning and Behavior, 32(1), 36–52.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  33. Whiten, A., McGuigan, N., Marshall-Pescini, S., & Hopper, L. (2009). Emulation, imitation, over-imitation and the scope of culture for child and chimpanzee. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 364, 2417–2428.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Williamson, R., & Markman, E. (2006). Precision of imitation as a function of preschoolers’ understanding of the goal of the demonstration. Developmental Psychology, 42(4), 723–731.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dell TechnologiesAustinUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Sarah Dunphy-Lelii
    • 1
  1. 1.Bard CollegeAnnandale-On-HudsonUSA