A while ago, in a paper published by cognitive neuroscientist Richard Cook from the UCL Department of Cognitive, Perceptual, and Brain Science, players of the game rock-paper-scissors subconsciously copied each other’s hand gestures causing it to substantially increase the chance of ending the game in a draw.
To explore the prospect of the role of imitation, the researchers created two conditions under which 45 recruited participants played the game of rock-paper-scissors. In the first condition, both players were blindfolded. In the second, one player was blindfolded and the other was not. They even raised the stakes by adding a financial incentive to encourage the players to aim to win and avoid drawing.
Interestingly enough, in the first condition (blind-blind) one-third of games ended in a draw, exactly as chance would predict. However, in the second condition (blind-sighted), the number of games that ended in draw was significantly higher than one-third. The explanation that would make sense here would be that the sighted player was almost involuntarily copying the gestures of the blindfolded one – even when it was not in their interest to do so. In conclusion, the researchers suggested that we are frequently exposed to situations where seeing an action accurately predicts performing the same action, and vice versa.
For students in a learning environment such as school, it is then fair to say that they learn and imitate their fellow students and teachers subconsciously. If and when they find themselves getting distracted, falling behind, or unable to follow teacher’s instructions, students can get caught up and fill the gaps between knowing and execution by simply imitating their peers.
However, in order to imitate one must be attentive, engaged, and observant. There are several developmental disabilities such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, or
Anxiety Disorder that impair one’s ability to attend to information and monitor observational learning. These students tend to miss out on learning by imitating “desirable behaviors” such as
stop talking as soon as the teacher begins teaching, turn in homework by watching others do the same, or controlling misbehaviors after seeing others get reprimanded. Executive dysfunction
caused by developmental disabilities prevents the student from understanding the advantage of engaging in that opportunity to observe, imitate, and learn.