Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Initial Investigations into Preschoolers' Mirror-Style versus Transposed Bodily Imitation

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology

Initial Investigations into Preschoolers' Mirror-Style versus Transposed Bodily Imitation

Article excerpt

In typical development, imitation plays a key role in sociocognitive competence. The current study investigated a hypothesised developmental trajectory in face-to-face full body imitation style in 91 preschoolers, as well as a relation between imitation style and theory of mind (ToM). Children's response style to 8 lateralized action prompts was recorded as either "mirror" or "transposed." Overall, mirror-style response increased with age, and was predominant for children and an adult comparison group. Imitation style varied depending on the prompt given, with certain actions showing a side bias regardless of prompt viewed. Mirror-style response was correlated with ToM performance after controlling for language ability, but not after controlling for age. Findings are discussed regarding the hypothesised relation between postural synchrony and larger perspective-taking competence.

Keywords: imitation, theory of mind, preschooler, perspective taking

The body of literature on infants' and children's imitation is vast; in both typical and atypical development, imitation plays a key role in sociocognitive competence (Gerrans, 2009; Ingersoll & Meyer, 2011; Nadel, 2002). Dyadic imitation is likely foundational in maintaining the early, online interpersonal synchrony characteristic of effective collaborative interaction, which may, in turn, lay the groundwork for later emerging perspective taking. Recent interest in the mirror neuron system has prompted further investigations into the underpinnings of imitation, as well as its role as a precursor to more sophisticated interpersonal skill (Charman et al., 2000; Southgate, Gergely, & Csibra, 2009). Consistent with this idea, both being imitated and imitating another has been well demonstrated to increase subjective feelings of liking in adults (Ashton-James, van Baaren, Chartrand, Decety, & Karrenmans, 2007; Stel, van den Bos, & Bal, 2012). Relatedly, imitation in toddlerhood predicts moral internalization in the preschool years (Forman, Aksan, & Kochanska, 2004). One hallmark of the preschool years is the explosion of a sociocognitive competency that reveals these children's relative sophistication in orienting their own perspective alongside another's (e.g., Wellman, 20)1). Such skill in coordinating self and other sociocognitive perspective may well coincide with increasingly sophisticated body coordination of self and other-coordination that could evidence in spontaneous, postural imitative synchrony during dyadic interactions.

Research on the emergence and style of prompted imitation has traditionally focused on infants. Certainly, imitation, both gestural and goal directed, improves over the preschool period (Rogers, Hepburn, Stackhouse, & Wehner, 2003; Vanvuchelen, Roeyers, & de Weert, 2011), but little research with typically developing children has empirically targeted style of imitation or its sociocognitive correlates during these years. Interpersonal competence is growing rapidly during the preschool years, and face-to-face dyadic interactions, particularly between preschool-aged peers, are increasing as play becomes more collaborative (e.g., Coolahan, Fantuzzo, Mendez, & McDermott, 2000). This affords new opportunities to observe and practice sophisticated self-other body coordination patterns. One particular aspect of self-other coordination that may have implications for face-to-face collaborative play is postural matching. For example, when mimicking another's position, and when a clear functional goal does not obviate one particular movement, children may imitate as if they are looking in a mirror, or they may use the "same" hand (i.e., transposed matching). The transposed pattem could be later emerging, as the child identifies their own-body equivalent more efficiently, or mirror style could be later emerging, as it represents a type of self-other synchrony that facilitates shared goals in a physical environment. Recent research on imitative compatibility shows that adults are facilitated in their manual imitative performance when task-irrelevant, static mirror images (as opposed to transposed images) of another hand are visible while they work, demonstrating that mirror-style perceptual-motor concordance is recognized, even when not explicitly attended to (e. …

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