Faced with ostracism threat, kids use imitation to fit in

New York, Dec 16 (IANS) In the face of a threat of being excluded from a group of their liking, children try to copy group behaviour as a means of re-affiliating, a study says.

“Humans have an evolutionary prepared ostracism-detection system,” said lead author of the study Rachel Watson-Jones from The University of Texas at Austin.

According to the study, children as young as five are sensitive to being excluded, especially from “in-groups” — those to which they feel they belong — and will respond using high-fidelity imitation to re-affiliate with those groups.

“When kids feel left out, they copy the behaviour of others around them in order to appear more like them,” said Watson-Jones.

“Whether it is the way they dress, play, eat or activities they participate in, a child will imitate the behaviour of others to appear as though they are part of that group,” Watson-Jones said.

Researchers observed 176 children between ages five and six, as they played Cyberball, a virtual ball-tossing game, under four conditions.

They looked at those ostracised from the in-group and those included, and those ostracised from the out-group and those included.

After the game, children watched an in-group or out-group member perform a pattern of arbitrary but intentional hand and object movements to simulate a group convention.

Children who had been excluded by the in-group imitated the actions with higher fidelity than children who had been included. However, children ostracized or included by the out-group did not differ in their imitative fidelity of the out-group convention, the researchers found.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Science.

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