How Children Learn Cultural Conventions

How do children acquire the rituals of the communities around them? Do children bond through collective rituals in the same way as adults? We have been studying the emergence of what we call the “ritual stance” in cognitive development—that is, the motivation to copy causally opaque behaviour essential for the transmission of any group’s normative conventions. We have also been examining the effects of ritual participation on executive control and the ability to defer gratification based on comparative studies of children in Western and Melanesian cultures. Our latest research is focused on the developmental pathways to fusion via shared experience among schoolchildren in New Zealand.

Oxford Team:
Veronika Rybanska
Tara Tasuji
Harvey Whitehouse

Elena Gaviria Stewart (Madrid)
Paul Harris (Harvard)
Jonathan Jong (Coventry)
Cristine Legare (Texas)
Ryan McKay (London)
Elaine Reese (Otago)
Rachel Watson-Jones (Texas)


Selected Publications

Legare, Cristine H., Nicole J. Wen, Patricia A. Herrmann, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Imitative flexibility and the development of cultural learning. Cognition. Vol 142: pp. 351-361.

Gaviria, Elena, Carolina Ferreira, Mercedes Martínez, and Harvey Whitehouse (2015). Identity and the developmental origins of fusion: an exploratory approach / La identidad y los orígenes de la fusion en el desarrollo: un enfoque exploratorio. Revista de Psicología Social / International Journal of Social Psychology, 30(3), 531-62.

Watson-Jones, Rachel E., Harvey Whitehouse, and Cristine H. Legare (2015). In-group ostracism increases high fidelity imitation in early childhood. Psychological Science. 

Herrmann, Patricia A., Cristine H. Legare, Paul L. Harris & Harvey Whitehouse (2013). Stick to the script: The effect of witnessing multiple actors on children’s imitation. Cognition, Vol. 129: pp 536-543.

Watson-Jones, Rachel, Cristine H. Legare, Harvey Whitehouse and Jennifer Clegg (2014). Task-specific effects of ostracism on imitation of social convention in early childhood. Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 35, No. 3: pp 204 – 210.

Whitehouse, Harvey (2011). The Coexistence Problem in Psychology, Anthropology, and Evolutionary Theory. Human Development, Vol 54: pp 191-199.