How does watching peers influence children’s learning?

    • Topic: Social Interactions

    • Location: Discovery Center

    Previous research has shown that copying the behaviors of others plays an influential role in children’s social and cognitive development. From a young age, children have the ability to selectively choose both who they imitate as well as which actions or behaviors they imitate. For example, they may be more likely to imitate the behaviors of other children than adults. We are interested in exploring the types of behaviors children are likely to imitate from peers and whether having siblings affects this.

    In this study, children (ages 4-5 years) will be asked to watch two videos of an older child performing actions with both familiar and unfamiliar objects. First, children will see the older child play with a ring stacker in a novel way (e.g. spinning the base). Then, the older child will play with objects children tend to be less familiar with, like a garlic peeler. After each video children will be invited to play with the same objects they just saw the older child play with. We are interested in observing whether children imitate the actions they see the older child perform in the video.

    Previous research has shown that children draw from their prior knowledge about an object and its function when deciding whether or not to imitate someone else using the same object. Because of this, we predict that children might be more likely to imitate the older child’s actions when exploring the unfamiliar toys. We also predict that children who have older siblings will be more likely to imitate the older child’s actions. This research will help us better understand how children use selective imitation when learning from their peers.

    This research is being conducted in Living Laboratory at the Museum of Science by psychology researchers from the Boston University Social Learning Lab

        » Boston University Social Learning Lab

    Activities to Try in the Discovery Center

    Busy Bees

    In the Children’s Gallery of the Discovery Center, encourage your child to pretend to be a honeybee with you. First, hide the “flowers” found at the beehive while your child closes his or her eyes. Then, using the activity cards at the beehive, or with the assistance of a staff member, try showing your child the “bee dance” to help him or her locate the flowers (waggle in a circle, and then buzz in the direction of the flower).

    Ask your child to rehide the flowers and do the “bee dance” for you! Does your child imitate the actions you used when doing the bee dance? Does s/he use different actions to show you the location of the flower? If another child is playing at the beehive, does your child imitate his or her actions?

    Activities to Try at Home


    At home, encourage your child to watch you while you do an everyday chore s/he is already familiar with (e.g. folding clothes, putting away toys). Try performing the task in an unfamiliar way – for example, fold clothes into unusual shapes, or tap each toy to your forehead before putting it away. Then, ask your child to try the same activity. Does s/he imitate your actions, or does s/he perform the actions in a way s/he was previously familiar with? Is your child more likely to imitate you when you perform a less familiar task in a new way than when you perform a more familiar one?

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