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Thursday, June 13
The Indiana Daily Student

academics & research

IU study finds imitation helpful in decision making

Contrary to what it may seem, IU researchers are finding it might be preferable to be surrounded by imitators than innovators.

Robert Goldstone, professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, co-authored the study alongside Thomas Wisdom, a recent IU graduate and freelance researcher based in Chicago.

“We were interested in sort of developing an experimental laboratory for looking at the reasons why people decide to imitate or innovate and what the consequences are,” Goldstone said.

To find out, they created a game called Creature League. The object of the game is to form the highest scoring team of made-up creatures. 

The game is played in multiple rounds.

When forming a team, participants had several options.

They could leave their team as is, look at how other teams were doing and take players from them or choose to select a random, unknown creature from a gallery.

This creature represented “innovative thinking,” Goldstone said.

Scores increased when there was more imitation involved in the play.

“It’s not surprising it’s good for the individual because they don’t have to go off on their own,”Goldstone said. “The more interesting result is that you do better when surrounded by imitators.”

The reason for this benefit is what Goldstone calls reciprocal imitation.

Person A imitates person B, making small edits to person B’s original process.

Person B can then imitate the improved version of their process and make his or her own small edits, and the process can be infinitely improved.

“In many situations people don’t want to be imitated, but that’s probably wrong,” Goldstone said.

Goldstone likened his findings from Creature League to the open-source software movement in which coders spend hours creating a program and then allow the whole world to see their code.

By sharing the software openly, different functionalities and add-ons can be created and the software can improve, Goldstone said.

He also said their findings could be relevant in government and other fields of work and study.

“If you’re part of a group trying to solve a problem together, you can do a lot better than on your own,” Goldstone said, “and one of the ways to do that is to allow people to imitate you.”

Researchers are still collecting data from the original Creature League. The game can be played at

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