Infants increasingly generalize deferred imitation across environmental contexts between 6 and 18 months of age. In three experiments with 126 6-, 9-, 12-, 15-, and 18-month-olds, we examined the role of the social context in deferred imitation. One experimenter demonstrated target actions on a hand puppet, and a second experimenter tested imitation 24h later. When the second experimenter was novel, infants did not exhibit deferred imitation at any age; when infants were preexposed to the second experimenter, all of them did. Imitating immediately after the demonstration also facilitated deferred imitation in a novel social context at all ages but 6 months. Infants' pervasive failure to exhibit deferred imitation in a novel social context may reflect evolutionary selection pressures that favored conservative behavior in social animals.