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Infants keep imitation in mind.

Infants keep imitation in mind

Among infants 18 months of age and younger, psychologists have noted a number of important influences on learning and knowledge about objects. Individual discovery and training by adults have been assigned major roles in the developmental experiences of these infants. Often unappreciated, however, is the youngsters' ability to remember and later imitate the behavior of others, an investigator contends in the July DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY.

Psychologist Andrew N. Meltzoff of the University of Washington in Seattle studied the ability of 14-month-old infants to imitate simple behaviors one week after seeing them demonstrated by an adult. A total of 12 infants watched an experimenter perform simple actions with a series of toys: pulling apart a detachable, dumbbell-shaped toy, pushing a hinged flap over the top of a box, pushing the button on another box to produce a beeping sound, shaking a plastic egg that rattled and jiggling a stuffed bear by a string attached to its head. A final toy-related action, unlikely to be performed by infants during spontaneous play and thus "novel," involved the experimenter leaning forward and touching a plastic panel on top of a wooden box with his forehead. When touched, the panel was illuminated by a light bulb in the box.

One week later, all bu tone of the infants imitated three or more playful actions when given the toys. The novel action was imitated by eight infants. In contrast, only three of 24 infants in control groups performed three or more of the same actions. Some control children were given the toys without ever having seen them before; others had seen the toys but not the specific actions to be imitated. None of the 24 controls performed the novel act, notes Meltzoff.

Previously, says Meltzoff, the longest delay in studies of infant imitation had been one day. "The results show that infants are able to internally represent the acts they see adults perform, and are motivated to use these representations to guide their own subsequent behavior, even after lengthy delays," he concludes.
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Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 23, 1988
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