The ghost condition: Imitation versus Emulation in young childrens observational learning

Doreen E. Thompson, James Russell, J. Dannemiller (Editor)

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    59 Citations (Scopus)


    Although observational learning by children may occur through imitating a modeler's actions, it can also occur through learning about an object's dynamic affordances- a process that M. Tomasello (1996) calls 'emulation.' The relative contributions of imitation and emulation within observational learning were examined in a study with 14- to 26-month-old children. The effectiveness of a 'ghost' condition, in which the effective operation of the means apparatus was seen to occur without human agency, was compared with that of a standard modeling procedure in which the child saw an experimenter demonstrate the means action. The ghost condition was as likely to encourage observational learning as was the modeling condition; indeed, performance in the ghost condition was significantly better. The role of emulation in the development of observational learning is discussed in the context of a possible form of goal directedness without agency.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)882-889
    Number of pages7
    JournalDevelopmental Psychology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 2004


    • learning
    • observational learning
    • imitation
    • emulation
    • educational psychology


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