Preschool children favor copying a successful individual over an unsuccessful group

Dev Sci. 2015 Nov;18(6):1014-24. doi: 10.1111/desc.12274. Epub 2014 Dec 20.


The human aptitude for imitation and social learning underpins our advanced cultural practices. While social learning is a valuable evolutionary survival strategy, blind copying does not necessarily facilitate survival. Copying from the majority allows individuals to make rapid judgments on the value of a trait, based on its frequency. This is known as the majority bias: an individual's tendency to copy the behavior elicited by the largest number of individuals in a population. An alternative approach is to follow those who are the most proficient. While there is evidence that children do show both processes, no study has directly pitted them against each other. To do this, in the current experiment 36 children aged between 4 and 5 years watched live actors demonstrate, as a group or individually, how to open novel puzzle boxes. Children exhibited a bias to the majority when group and individual methods were successful, but favored the individual if the group method was unsuccessful. Affiliating children with the unsuccessful majority group did not impact on this pattern.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Psychology, Child*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Social Conformity