The role of context in “over-imitation”: Evidence of movement-based goal inference in young children

Joshua March (Lead / Corresponding author), Brier Rigby Dames, Christine Caldwell, Martin Doherty, Eva Rafetseder

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4 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Children, as well as adults, often imitate causally unnecessary actions. Three experiments investigated whether such “over-imitation” occurs because these actions are interpreted as performed for the movement's sake (i.e., having a “movement-based” goal). Experiment 1 (N = 30, 2–5-year-olds) replicated previous findings; children imitated actions with no goal more precisely than actions with external goals. Experiment 2 (N = 58, 2–5-year-olds) confirmed that the difference between these conditions was not due to the absence/presence of external goals but rather was also found when actions brought about external goals in a clearly inefficient way. Experiment 3 (N = 36, 3–5-year-olds) controlled for the possibility that imitation fidelity was affected by the number of actions and objects present during the demonstration and confirmed that identical actions were imitated more precisely when they appeared to be more inefficient toward an external goal. Our findings suggest that movement-based goal inference encourages over-imitation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104713
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Experimental Child Psychology
Early online date11 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Action understanding
  • Children
  • Context
  • Goal inference
  • Imitation
  • Intention

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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