Working memory constraints on imitation and emulation

J Exp Child Psychol. 2014 Dec;128:190-200. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.07.005. Epub 2014 Aug 23.


Does working memory (WM) constrain the amount and type of information children copy from a model? To answer this question, preschool-age children (N=165) were trained and then tested on a touch-screen task that involved touching simultaneously presented pictures. Prior to responding, children saw a model generate two target responses: Order (touching all of the pictures on the screen in a target sequence three consecutive times) and Multi-Tap (consistently touching one of the pictures two times). Children's accuracy copying Order and Multi-Tap was assessed on two types of sequences: low WM load (2 pictures) and high WM load (3 pictures). Results showed that more children copied both Order and Multi-Tap on 2-picture sequences than on 3-picture sequences. Children who copied only one of the two target responses tended to copy only Order on 2-picture sequences but only Multi-Tap on 3-picture sequences. Instructions to either copy or ignore the Multi-Tap response did not affect this overall pattern of results. In sum, results are consistent with the hypothesis that WM constrains not just the amount but also the type of information children copy from models, potentially modulating whether children imitate or emulate in a given task.

Keywords: Children; Cognition; Cognitive development; Emulation; Imitation; Overimitation; Social learning; Working memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychology, Child