Why do child-directed interactions support imitative learning in young children?

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Child-directed cues support imitation of novel actions at 18 months, but not at two years of age. The current studies explore the mechanisms that underlie the propensity that children have to copy others at 18 months, and how the value of child-directed communication changes over development. We ask if attentional allocation accounts for children's failure to imitate observed actions at 18 months, and their success at two years of age, and we explore the informational value child-directed contexts may provide across ontogeny. Eighteen-month-old (Study 1) and two-year-old (Study 2) children viewed causally non-obvious actions performed by child-directed (Study 1 & 2), observed (Study 1 & 2), or non-interactive (Study 2) actors, and their visual attention and imitative behaviors were assessed. Results demonstrated that child-directed contexts supported imitative learning for 18-month-old children, independent of their effects on proximal attention. However, by two years of age, neither directness nor communication between social partners was a necessary condition for supporting social imitation. These findings suggest that developmental changes in children's propensity to extract information from observation cannot be accounted for by changes in children's interpretation of what counts as child-directed information, and are likely not due to changes in how children allocate attention to observed events.




Shneidman, L., Todd, R., & Woodward, A. (2014). Why do child-directed interactions support imitative learning in young children? PLoS ONE, 9(10). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110891

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