Reading and resources
One of the most important ways children learn about the world is by observing the people in their lives, which is in fact true for the cubs of many other animals! Some of the most notable contributions about how learning from others (social learning) occurs were propose by psychologist Albert Bandura in the 1960s and 70s. Imitation is one of the core mechanisms of social learning. This research field is now vast, and wholly relevant to parenting, as it makes parents aware of the importance of modelling the behaviours they want to encourage in their children. This article presents an accessible but comprehensive overview of Social Learning Theory, and its implications for many areas of society.
More recently, the discovery of mirror neurons in the 1990s was proposed to provide the biological basis for social learning. Scientists generally agree that mirror neurons have some involvement in social learning, but whether their role is essential or even central is a matter of debate. Here is an interview with one of the early proponents of the role of mirror neurons on how this field of knowledge is evolving, and here a more technical scientific article.