Young children learn from others’ examples, and do so selectively. Here we examine whether the efficacy of prior experience influences children’s tendency to imitate. 36-‐ month-‐olds received prior experience on a causal learning task. The children either performed the task themselves or watched an adult perform it. The nature of the experience was systematically manipulated such that the actor had either an easy or a difficult experience solving the task. Next, a second adult demonstrated an innovative technique for solving the task. Children who had a difficult first-‐person experience and those who had witnessed another person having a difficult time were significantly more likely to adopt and imitate the adult’s innovation than those who had or witnessed an easy experience. Overall, children who observed another were even more likely to imitate than were those whose prior experience consisted of their own hands-‐on motor behavior, confirming that imitation is influenced by both own and others' prior experience.
Williamson, Rebecca and Meltzoff, Andrew N., "Own and others’ prior experiences influence children’s imitation of causal acts" (2011). Psychology Faculty Publications. Paper 109.