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Born smart: imitation of life.

Born smart: Imitation of life

Most traditional theories of infant development, including those of Piaget, posit that infants first become able to imitate facial gestures at about 1 year of age, and that they are able to perform "deferred imitation'--to imitate something they can no longer see--at 18 to 24 months of age. Such assumptions are among the cornerstones of infant cognitive and social development theories, says Andrew N. Meltzoff of the department of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle.

"If these traditional assumptions are in error,' Meltzoff says, "then predictions about cognitive and social skills in later infancy that derive from these foundations may also be mistaken.' On the basis of their findings with very young infants, Meltzoff and his colleagues have concluded just that.

In one study, the researchers exposed 40 infants under 72 hours old (one as young as 42 minutes) to various "facial displays,' primarily consisting of someone's mouth opening and tongue protruding. "The results clearly showed that even these newborn infants could imitate,' Meltzoff reports.

In a second study, 14- and 24-month-olds observed a demonstrator pulling apart a small, dumbbell-shaped toy, which the infants had never before seen. After a 24-hour delay, the infants were again presented with the same toy; a control group of infants was given the toy to play with without having seen the adult demonstration.

Meltzoff and his colleagues found that "infants, even those as young as 14 months old, can perform deferred imitation.' On a broader scale, the results, he says, "show that young infants-- even newborn babies--are interested in, even fascinated by, the human beings in the world around them. It is this idea of young infants as actively working to make sense of their world that has some important implications for our theories of perceptual, cognitive and social development.'
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Title Annotation:infant development
Publication:Science News
Date:Jun 15, 1985
Words:303
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