This chapter argues that that humans' ecological and demographic success may be a direct product of a heavy but highly discriminate reliance on social learning, particularly imitation. Imitation is far from the only form of social learning in which humans engage. Much information is acquired through direct instruction, or through subtler motivational or attentional processes, but imitation is unquestionably an important form of human social learning. This chapter shows how, even where social learning appears irrational and slavish, the copying is still discriminating. Children, for example, do not copy everything that they see and hear, but imitate strategically, according to a set of rules. Those rules might sometimes appear curious or even bizarre, but social learning researchers have made sense of them with the use of principles derived from evolutionary theory. Even though human children may be especially prepared by their evolutionary past to absorb what others tell them, and despite the fact that we are more culturally dependent than any other species on earth, we remain highly discriminating about what we copy.
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