Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




J. Grayson Osborne


Ten experimentally naive children between the ages of six and eight served in three generalized imitation experiments using symbolic models. Subjects were presented videotaped behaviors to imitate via closed circuit television, and their responses were mechanically defined, recorded, and reinforced in an effort to control social influences from the presence of the experimenter. In Experiment 1, imitation of three behaviors was reinforced and imitation of a fourth behavior was never reinforced for four subjects. Two other subjects received noncontingent reinforcement. The following independent variables were tested: (1) the presence and absence of an experimenter, (2) instructions to "Do that," and (3) contingent and noncontingent reinforcement.

Results of Experiment 1 demonstrated the apparatus could be used to produce and maintain generalized imitation, even in the absence of the experimenter, so long as differential reinforcement was available. ''Do that'' instructions were not necessary, and the presence of the experimenter served to maintain imitation when contingent reinforcement was not available.

In Experiment 2, four subjects produced generalized imitation in the absence of both a n experimenter and any instructions with two reinforced and two nonreinforced imitations.

Using the same four subjects in Experiment 3, congruent, incongruent, and "Do what you want" instructions given before sessions demonstrated that instructions could override the effect of reinforcers or produce differential responding in most subjects. When given a choice to imitate or not imitate, subjects continued generalized imitation.

The data tend to support the theory that imitation is itself a response class, and the effect of instructions is to divide that response class into a class of imitated responses and a class of instruction-following responses. The influence of instructions, even in the absence of an adult experimenter, was obvious.