Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5d6d958fb5-xnv6z Total loading time: 1.202 Render date: 2022-11-27T13:31:09.237Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "useRatesEcommerce": false, "displayNetworkTab": true, "displayNetworkMapGraph": false, "useSa": true } hasContentIssue true

7 - The Cultural Transmission of Social Information

from Part II - Imitation and Mimicry

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 October 2016

Sukhvinder S. Obhi
McMaster University, Ontario
Emily S. Cross
Bangor University
Get access



Human groups differ not only in the types of tools and artifacts they produce, but also in the ways in which they interact with and behave around each other. Social learning is key to explaining these differences between human groups. However, to date, research on cultural transmission has focused predominately on how imitation and other forms of social learning enable children to learn about the physical world. While this research has yielded important insights into the nature of the cultural transmission process, the picture it provides is incomplete. Here, inspired by anthropological perspectives, we adopt a broader view of culture and emphasize that a group’s culture is not only composed of the tools and artifacts it produces but also the values, norms, attitudes, opinions and beliefs that it holds dear. Using this broader definition of culture, we review the social psychological literature on how children learn about the social world through copying those around them. We hope this integrative review highlights the importance of the more social aspects of cultural transmission and offers a broader view of human culture that will open up new avenues for future research.

Shared Representations
Sensorimotor Foundations of Social Life
, pp. 136 - 150
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70, 170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bandura, A. (1997). Social learning theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.Google ScholarPubMed
Bandura, A., Ross, D., & Ross, S. A. (1961). Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63, 575582.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Barrett, J. L., Newman, R. M., & Richert, R. A. (2003). When seeing is not believing: Children’s understanding of humans’ and non-humans’ use of background knowledge in interpreting visual displays. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 3, 91108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Barrett, J. L., Richert, R. A., & Driesenga, A. (2001). God’s belief versus mother’s: The development of non-human agent concepts. Child Development, 72, 5065.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bar-Tal, D. (1996). Development of social categories and stereotyping in early childhood: The case of ‘the Arab’ concept of formation, stereotype, and attitudes by Jewish children in Israel. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 20, 341370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. (1985). Culture and the evolutionary process. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
Bulbulia, J., Geertz, A. W., Atkinson, Q. D., Cohen, E., Evan, N., et al. (2013). The cultural evolution of religion. In Richerson, P. J. & Christiansen, M. H. (Eds.), Cultural evolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 381404.Google Scholar
Caldwell, C. A., & Millen, A. E. (2008). Studying cumulative cultural evolution in the laboratory. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 363, 35293539.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Carlson, J. M., & Iovini, J. (1985). The transmission of racial attitudes from fathers to sons: A study of Blacks and Whites. Adolescence, 20, 233237.Google ScholarPubMed
Carpenter, M., Akhtar, N., & Tomasello, M. (1998). Fourteen- to 18-month-old infants differentially imitate intentional and accidental actions. Infant Behavior and Development, 21, 315330.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carpenter, M., & Call, J. (2002). The chemistry of social learning. Developmental Science, 5(1), 2224.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carpenter, M., (2009). Comparing the imitative skills of children and nonhuman apes. Revue de Primatologie, 1(1), 187–192.Google Scholar
Chartrand, T. L., & Bargh, J. A. (1999). The chameleon effect: The perception–behavior link and social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(6), 893910.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cialdini, R. B. (2003). Crafting normative messages to protect the environment. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 12, 105109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corriveau, K. H., & Harris, P. L. (2010). Preschoolers (sometimes) defer to the majority in making simple perceptual judgments. Developmental Psychology, 46(2), 437445.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Duckitt, J. (1988). Normative conformity and racial prejudice in South Africa. Genetic, Social and General Psychology Monographs, 114, 413437.Google Scholar
Eckerman, C., Davis, C., & Didow, S. (1989). Toddlers’ emerging ways to achieve social coordination with a peer. Child Development, 60, 440453.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Flynn, E., & Whiten, A. (2012). Experimental ‘microcultures’ in young children: Identifying biographic, cognitive, and social predictors of information transmission. Child Development, 83(3), 911925.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Flynn, E., (2013). Dissecting children’s observational learning of complex actions through selective video displays. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116, 247263.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gimenez-Dasi, M., Guerrero, S., & Harris, P. L. (2005). Intimations of immortality and omni-science in early childhood. European Journal of Developmental Psychology, 2, 285297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Guerrero, S., Enesco, I., & Harris, P. L. (2010). Oxygen and the soul: Children’s conception of invisible entities. Journal of Cognition and Culture, 10, 123151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind. Why good people are divided by politics and religion. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
Harris, P. L., Pasquini, E. S., Duke, S., Asscher, J. J., & Pons, F. (2006). Germs and angels: The role of testimony in young children’s ontology. Developmental Science, 9(1), 7696.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Haslam, N., Rothschild, L., & Ernst, D. (2002). Are essentialist beliefs associated with prejudice? Behavioral Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 87100.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Haun, D. B., and Tomasello, M. (2011). Conformity to peer pressure in preschool children. Child Development, 82(6), 17591767.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Herrmann, P. A., Legare, C. H., Harris, P. L., and Whitehouse, H. (2013). Stick to the script: The effect of witnessing multiple actors on children’s imitation. Cognition, 129, 536543.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Heyes, C. (2013). What can imitation do for cooperation? In Sterelny, K., Joyce, R., Calcott, B., & Fraser, B. (Eds.), Cooperation and its evolution. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 501523.Google ScholarPubMed
Horner, V., & Whiten, A. (2005). Causal knowledge and imitation/emulation switching in chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and children (Homo sapiens). Animal Cognition, 8(3), 164181.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kenward, B. (2012). Over-imitating preschoolers believe unnecessary actions are normative and enforce their performance by a third party. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 112, 195207.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Keupp, S., Behne, T., & Rakoczy, H. (2013). Why do children overimitate? Normativity is crucial. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 116, 392406.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lakin, J., & Chartrand, T. L. (2003). Using nonconscious behavioral mimicry to create affiliation and rapport. Psychological Science, 14, 334339.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Laland, K. N., & Hoppitt, W. (2003). Do animals have culture? Evolutionary Anthropology, 12, 150159.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Luncz, L. V., Mundry, R., & Boesch, C. (2012). Evidence for cultural differences between neighboring chimpanzee communities. Current Biology, 22(10), 922926.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lyons, D. E., Young, A. G., & Keil, F. C. (2007). The hidden structure of overimitation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104, 1975119756.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Meltzoff, A. N. (1995). Understanding the intentions of others: Re-enactment of intended acts by 18-month-old children. Developmental Psychology, 31, 838850.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Mosher, D. L., & Scodel, A. (1960). Relationships between ethnocentrism in children and the ethnocentrism and authoritarianism rearing practices of their mothers. Child Development, 31, 369376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nadel, J. (2002 ). Imitation and imitation recognition: Functional use in preverbal infants and nonverbal children with autism. In Meltzoff, A. N. & Prinz, W. (Eds.), The imitative mind: Development, evolution, and brain bases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 4262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nagell, K., Olguin, R. S., & Tomasello, M. (1993). Processes of social learning in the tool use of chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and human children (Homo sapiens). Journal of Comparative Psychology, 107(2), 174186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nielsen, M. (2006). Copying actions and copying outcomes: Social learning through the second year. Developmental Psychology, 42, 555565.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nielsen, M. (2009). The imitative behavior of children and chimpanzees: A window on the transmission of cultural traditions. Revue de Primatology [online], 1. doi : 10.4000/primatologie.254.Google Scholar
Nielsen, M., & Blank, C. (2011). Imitation in young children: When who gets copied is more important than what gets copied. Developmental Psychology, 47, 10501053.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Nielsen, M., Subiaul, F., Whiten, A., Galef, B., & Zentall, T. (2012). Social learning in humans and non-human animals: Theoretical and empirical dissections. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126, 109113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nielsen, M., & Tomaselli, K. (2010). Over-imitation in Kalahari Bushman children and the origins of human cultural cognition. Psychological Science, 21, 729736.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Olson, K. R., Dweck, C. S., Spelke, E. S., & Banaji, M. R. (2011). Children’s responses to group-based inequalities: Perpetuation and rectification. Social Cognition, 29(2), 270287.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Over, H., & Carpenter, M. (2009). Priming third-party ostracism increases affiliative imitation in children. Developmental Science, 12, F1F8.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Over, H., (2012). Putting the social into social learning: Explaining both selectivity and fidelity in children’s copying behavior. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 126, 182192.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Over, H., (2013). The social side of imitation. Child Development Perspectives, 7, 611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rakoczy, H., Warneken, F., & Tomasello, M. (2008). The sources of normativity: Young children’s awareness of the normative structure of games. Developmental Psychology, 44(3), 875881.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rhodes, M., Leslie, S., & Tworek, C. M. (2012). Cultural transmission of social essentialism. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(34), 1352613531.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Schaik, J. E. van, van Baaren, R., Bekkering, H., & Hunnius, S. (2013). Evidence for nonconscious behavior-copying in young children. In Knauff, M., Pauen, M., Sebanz, N., & Wachsmuth, I. (Eds.), Proceedings of the 35th Annual Conference of the Cognitive Science Society. Austin, TX: Cognitive Science Society, 15161521.Google Scholar
Sinclair, S., Dunn, E., & Lowery, B. (2005). The relationship between parental racial attitudes and children’s implicit prejudice. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 41(3), 283289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tennie, C., Call, J., & Tomasello, M. (2009). Ratcheting up the ratchet: On the evolution of cumulative culture. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, 24052415.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Thorpe, W. H. (1956). Learning and instinct in animals. London: Methuen.Google ScholarPubMed
Tomasello, M. (1994). The question of chimpanzee culture. In Wrangham, R. et al. (Eds.), Chimpanzee cultures. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 301317.Google Scholar
Tomasello, M. (1999). The cultural origins of human cognition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Tomasello, M., Kruger, A. C., & Ratner, H. H. (1993). Cultural learning. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 16, 495511.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, J. C. (1991). Social influence. Buckingham: Open University Press; Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.Google Scholar
Uskul, A. K., Cross, S. E., Alozkan, C., Gercek-Swing, B., Ataca, B., et al. (2014). Emotional responses to honor situations in Turkey and the northern USA. Cognition and Emotion, 28, 10571075.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Uzgiris, I. C. (1981). Two functions of imitation during infancy. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 4, 112.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Watson-Jones, R. E., Legare, C. H., Whitehouse, H., & Clegg, J. M. (2014). Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitation in early childhood. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35, 204210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whitehouse, H. (2012). Religion, cohesion and hostility. In Clarke, S., Powell, R., & Savulescu, J. (Eds.), Religion, intolerance and conflict: A scientific and conceptual investigation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 3647.Google Scholar
Whitehouse, H., & Cohen, E. (2012). Seeking a rapprochement between anthropology and the cognitive sciences: A problem-driven approach. Topics in Cognitive Science, 4(3), 404412.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Whiten, A., & Boesch, C. (2001). The cultures of chimpanzees. Scientific America, 284(1), 4855.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Whiten, A., McGuigan, N., Marshall-Pescini, S., & Hopper, L. M. (2009). Emulation, imitation, overimitaiton and the scope of culture for child and chimpanzee. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364, 24172428.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Cited by

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats