Infants' Imitation of Novel and Familiar Behaviors
Elise Frank Masur Northern Illinois University
The study of imitation in human infants has proceeded along rather different lines from that of imitation in animals. In research on social learning in animals, a major goal has been to determine whether or not learning can occur through observation of conspecifics (see Galef, this volume; Zentall, this volume). In contrast, because imitation by humans is not in doubt, the goals of research on human infants have been instead to determine when, why, and what infants imitate.
Although these three questions can be considered individually, they are clearly interrelated. The first is a developmental question, asking at what point infants exhibit imitative behavior and whether or not there are rudimentary precursors to true imitation performance. Those concerned with this question have been strongly influenced by the theoretical formulation of Piaget ( 1962) who conceptualized imitative ability as developing qualitatively during infancy through six stages from mere immediate elicitation of a reflex behavior (such as contagious crying) in newborns to delayed performance of complex and novel behaviors (including nonvisible actions infants cannot see themselves perform, such as eye blinking), by children at the end of the second year of life. The second question addresses the purposes or functions of infants' imitative performance of different kinds of actions at different times in development. Researchers have