Children learn by imitating adults, in fact this occurs to such an extent that they will change their perception of how an object works if they see you using it in the wrong manner.
The finding is based on a study led by Derek Lyons, doctoral candidate, developmental psychology at Yale University, who found that children follow adults' steps so faithfully that they actually change their mind about how an object functions.
"Even when you add time pressure, or warn the children not to do the unnecessary actions, they seem unable to avoid reproducing the adult's irrelevant actions," said Lyons.
"They have already incorporated the actions into their idea of how the object works," he added.
Learning by imitation occurs from the simplest preverbal communication to the most complex adult expertise.
In the study three-to-five-year-old children who engaged in a series of exercises were reviewed.
In one exercise, the children could see a dinosaur toy through a clear plastic box.
The researcher used a sequence of irrelevant and relevant actions to retrieve the toy, such as tapping the lid of the jar with a feather before unscrewing the lid.
Then the little ones were asked which actions were silly and which were not.
The kids were praised when they pinpointed the actions that had no value in retrieving the toy. The idea behind such an experiment was to teach the children that the adult was unreliable and that they should ignore his unnecessary actions.
Later the children watched adults retrieve a toy turtle from a box using needless steps. When asked to do the task themselves, the children over-imitated, despite their prior training to ignore irrelevant actions by the adults.
"What of all of this means is that children's ability to imitate can actually lead to confusion when they see an adult doing something in a disorganized or inefficient way. Watching an adult doing something wrong can make it much harder for kids to do it right," Lyons said.
The study is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.