While there is general consensus that robust forms of social learning enable the possibility of human cultural evolution, the specific nature, origins, and development of such learning mechanisms remains an open issue. The current paper offers an action-based approach to the study of social learning in general and imitation learning in particular. From this action-based perspective, imitation itself undergoes learning and development and is modeled as an instance of social meta-learning – children learning how to use others as a resource for further learning. This social meta-learning perspective is then applied empirically to an ongoing debate about the reason children imitate causally unnecessary actions while learning about a new artifact (i.e., over-imitate). Results suggest that children over-imitate because it is the nature of learning about social realities in which cultural artifacts are a central aspect.
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