ISSN 1671-3710
CN 11-4766/R

Advances in Psychological Science ›› 2016, Vol. 24 ›› Issue (5): 716-724.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1042.2016.00716

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Efficiency or fidelity first: A discussion of preschool children’s imitative learning mechanism

ZHENG Ming1; HAN Zengxia1; WANG Zhidan2   

  1. (1 College of Education, Northwest Normal University, Lanzhou 730070, China) (2 Department of Psychology, Georgia State University, Atlanta 30302, USA)
  • Received:2015-07-17 Online:2016-05-15 Published:2016-05-15
  • Contact: ZHENG Ming, E-mail:


Imitation is an important learning mechanism. However, do preschool children emphasize efficiency and copy actions selectively, or emphasize fidelity and copy indiscriminately? This debate on preschool children’s imitation is becoming a key question among developmental psychologists, comparative psychologists, and evolutionary anthropologists in the last 10 years. Some researchers proposed the automatic causal encoding hypothesis and the intention misunderstanding hypothesis based on how preschool children reason causal relations. Other researchers proposed the social affiliation hypothesis and the natural pedagogical hypothesis according to how preschool children communicate with others socially. To date, no one hypothesis has been able to explain all the evidence. To understand this debate from a new perspective, the “benefit-and-loss trading” hypothesis was proposed, which states that preschool children copy other’s actions by trading the benefit and loss.

Key words: imitation, efficiency, fidelity, learning mechanism