Imitation is the act of mimicking or copying; also called modeling or social learning.
Unlike behavioral models, wherein learning typically develops through conditioning, imitation occurs naturally without outside stimulus or reward. In a child's early years, much of learning is done through observation and imitation of parents, caregivers, siblings, peers, and modeling based on other stimuli, such as movies, television and other forms of media. Imitative learning occurs in primates, both human and nonhuman, but has not been conclusively proved to exist in other species.
The foremost researcher in the area of imitative learning is Albert Bandura (b. 1925). His work has focused on the ways in which modeling, especially the modeling of aggressive behavior, affects the thoughts, feelings, and behavior of children. Bandura's research revealed that imitation may result in the acquisition of new responses as well as to facilitate or inhibit responses that already exist. Although modeling occurs constantly in situations where neither the observer nor the model is rewarded for performing a particular action, Bandura found that punishment and reward can have an effect on the modeling situation. A child will more readily imitate a model being rewarded for an act than one being punished. Thus, the child can learn indirectly, without actually being rewarded or punished himself; this concept is known as vicarious learning. Similarly, Bandura showed that when a model is exposed to stimuli intended to have a conditioning effect, a person who simply observes this process without directly participating in it will tend to become conditioned by the stimuli as well.
See also Bandura, Albert; Child development ; Modeling ; Social learning theory .
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