The effect of model attractiveness on imitative fidelity in children



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Children and adults attribute positive personality traits and behaviors to people higher in physical attractiveness and negative traits and behaviors to people lower in attractiveness. These biases may be adaptations to evaluate information about social status. The present study builds upon social accounts of imitation by examining the effect of model attractiveness on imitative fidelity in childhood. In Study 1 (N = 150, 3--7-year-olds), the attractiveness of a model demonstrating an action sequence was manipulated to study the effect of priming high attractiveness versus low attractiveness on children's imitation of an instrumental task. Children's performance was coded for imitative fidelity and children's explanations for their behavior. I predicted that imitative fidelity would be highest when children see the actions being demonstrated by a more attractive model. I predicted also that older children would engage in higher imitative fidelity than younger children, a finding that may be due to increasing sensitivity to social conventions with age. The mean imitative fidelity summary score was higher for older children compared to the summary score for younger children. But contrary to prediction, there was not a significant difference in imitative fidelity across conditions. Likewise, the explanations provided by children for their copying behavior in the high attractive condition did not differ from the explanations provided by children in the low attractive condition. In Study 2, the same predictions were tested after correcting methodological flaws of Study 1. Study 2 (N = 79, 3--7-year-olds) has the same design of Study 1 with only two modifications relating to length of exposure to the model's face and to the instructions given to the child participant. As in Study 1, the data from Study 2 revealed an effect of age on imitation but not an effect of attractiveness. Although the results from these studies were not conclusive regarding the role of attractiveness, a follow up study with a different experimental manipulation may yield evidence in support of the hypothesis that the degree of imitation can be modulated by the attractiveness of the model.