NotesFAQContact Us
Search Tips
Peer reviewed Peer reviewed
Direct linkDirect link
ERIC Number: EJ992533
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2012-Jul
Pages: 15
Abstractor: As Provided
Reference Count: 87
ISSN: ISSN-0012-1649
Multiple Imitation Mechanisms in Children
Subiaul, Francys; Anderson, Sarah; Brandt, Janina; Elkins, Jenny
Developmental Psychology, v48 n4 p1165-1179 Jul 2012
Four studies using a computerized paradigm investigated whether children's imitation performance is content-specific and to what extent dependent on other cognitive processes such as trial-and-error learning, recall, and observational learning. Experiment 1 showed that 3-year-olds could successfully imitate what we call novel cognitive rules (e.g., first [right arrow] second [right arrow] third), which involved responding to 3 different pictures whose spatial configuration varied randomly from trial to trial. However, these same children failed to imitate what we call novel motor-spatial rules (e.g., up [right arrow] down [right arrow] right), which involved responding to 3 identical pictures that remained in a fixed spatial configuration from trial to trial. Experiment 2 showed that this dissociation was not due to a general difficulty in encoding motor-spatial content, as children successfully recalled, following a 30-s delay, a new motor-spatial sequence that had been learned by trial and error. Experiment 3 replicated these results and further demonstrated that 3-year-olds can infer a novel motor-spatial sequence following observation of a partially correct and partially incorrect response--a dissociation between imitation and observational learning (or emulation learning). Finally, Experiment 4 presented 3-year-olds with "familiar" motor-spatial sequences that involved making a linear response (e.g., left [right arrow] middle [right arrow] right) as well as "novel" motor-spatial sequences (e.g., right [right arrow] up [right arrow] down) used in Experiments 1-3 that were nonlinear and always involved a change in direction. Children had no difficulty imitating familiar motor-spatial sequences but again failed to imitate novel motor-spatial sequences. These results suggest that there may be multiple, dissociable imitation learning mechanisms that are content-specific. More importantly, the development of these imitation systems appears to be independent of the operations of other cognitive systems, including trial and error learning, recall, and observational learning. (Contains 2 tables, 3 figures and 3 footnotes.)
American Psychological Association. Journals Department, 750 First Street NE, Washington, DC 20002-4242. Tel: 800-374-2721; Tel: 202-336-5510; Fax: 202-336-5502; e-mail:; Web site:
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: District of Columbia