Imitating Actions on Objects

Infants and toddlers imitate a wide range of actions. They put one thing inside another, pull things apart and use their head to touch a novel object. The video also shows that imitation is a social emotional game that does not even require language. Children expressed joy in making a social emotional connection to the adults by imitating their actions.

You also saw the importance of eye gaze from a social partner in helping children acquire new skills through imitation and instruction. What did the child do when the adult picked up the cup, unexpectedly flipped it over, and pushed it down with his hand?  She looked at the object, at his eyes, then back to the object before reaching for the toy. Then she copied the action with no verbal instruction.

In the video clip, each child was immediately given the chance to imitate the actions. But what happens when children watch a behavior and don’t see the object again for a while?  As infants grow and develop, it is important that they are not limited to immediate imitation. They must also learn to apply that information under different circumstances.  This might mean remembering an action after delays of hours, days, weeks or months.  It can also mean remembering across different contexts (such as the specific room they are in), and with objects that might differ in some way (such as color or size) from the ones originally used by the adult model. 

  • Control group
    a group in a study who does not receive the treatment. The group serves as a comparison for the experimental group.
    Deferred imitation
    reproducing a behavior after a delay from its initial demonstration
    Electroencephalography (EEG)
    a method used to measure electrical activity in the brain
    the ability to apply something learned in one situation to a new situation
    observing then reproducing, or copying, a behavior
    Mirror neurons
    a type of brain cell. Mirror neurons respond when an animal produces an action and when they observe another animal produce the same action.
    Theory of mind
    the awareness that other people can have different thoughts and feelings from one’s own
    Trial-and-error learning
    trying different actions until you perform the right one