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Young Children Quickly Adopt Ritualistic Behavior

Update Date: Sep 23, 2013 09:05 AM EDT

Preschool children are quick to conform to ritualistic behavior, a new study finds.

The study conducted by The University of Texas offers completely new insight into how children learn the rituals and cultural practices of their respective communities.

“Attention to social cues and contextual information guides children’s imitation, a key component of the development and transmission of cultural knowledge,” said Cristine Legare, an assistant professor in psychology at The University of Texas at Austin.

Total of 259 children, ranging from 3 to 6 years old were the part of the study. Then they were made to watch videos of people performing novel tasks like tapping pegs with hammer on a pegboard in a particular sequence.

Children intimated the behavior with the high levels of constancy, when conventional language preceded two people performing the same actions simultaneously. Children explained their actions by stating, “I had to do it how they showed me” or “I had to do it the way they did it.”

On the contrary, when information about the outcome (goal) of the actions preceded solo demonstrations, they were more likely to ignore the exact sequence of actions. The also felt less obligated to follow by example claiming , “I can do whatever I want” or “I wanted to do it the way I did it.”.

“Seeing two people do the same thing at the same time is a strong indication that the specific form of the activity – the exact way in which it is performed – is regulated by convention,” Cristine Legare said. “We speculate that when such uniformity is detected, children are disposed to ascribe it to social factors – more specifically, to norms regulating how each person should act.”

“Our findings show that children come to social learning tasks ready to interpret them flexibly as opportunities for learning rituals or outcome-oriented behavior,” Legare later added.

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