The influence of goal demotion on children's reproduction of ritual behavior

Mark Nielsen, Keyan Tomaselli, Rohan Kapitány

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


Rituals are a ubiquitous feature of human behavior, yet we know little about the cognitive mechanisms that enable children to recognize them and respond accordingly. In this study, 3 to 6 year old children living in Bushman communities in South Africa were shown a sequence of causally irrelevant actions that differed in the extent to which goal demotion was a feature. The children consistently replicated the causally irrelevant actions but when such actions were also fully goal demoted they were reproduced at significantly higher rates. These findings highlight how causal opacity and goal demotion work in tandem to demarcate actions as being ritualistic, and specifically, how goal demotion uniquely influences the reproduction of ritualistic actions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-348
Number of pages6
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2018


  • Causal opacity
  • Goal demotion
  • Over-imitation
  • Ritual
  • Social learning, cultural transmission

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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