Do humans over-imitate robots?
Imitation plays a significant role in cultural knowledge transmission and in learning. The tendency to imitate causally irrelevant actions is termed over-imitation. Over-imitation is considered a social phenomenon unique to humans and has been investigated mainly in preschool-aged children. However, it is currently unknown whether children over-imitate if the model is not human. Here, we present a data set of the investigation if over-imitation occurs with a robot model. We tested whether 5-to-6-year-old children (boys = 1, girls = 0) over-imitate a humanoid robot in a similar manner as a human model (over-imitation: oi.score = 1, no over-imitation: oi.score = 0). Preschoolers were randomly assigned to watch either a human (condition = 1) or a robot (condition = 2) retrieve a reward out of a puzzle box, using functional and nonfunctional actions. Children saw three demonstrations in three phases and could extract a token themselves after each demonstration. In there first phase they observed an inefficient demonstration (including irrelevant actions), in the second phase the observed a efficient demonstration (only relevant action), and in the third phase they observed once more an inefficient demonstration. We compared the experimental condition also to a baseline condition in which children did not see any prior demonstration (condition = 0). Children tended to copy whichever strategy was shown to them — an inefficient or efficient one, regardless of who the model was. Thus, children were as likely to imitate the robot as the human. They even imitated the inefficient strategy after having successfully used the most efficient one. Results indicate that children perceive humanoid robots not only as informants but also as social behavioral models.