Rather than reenacting every action they observe, preverbal infants adapt their imitative behavior. Although previous studies have revealed the capability of preverbal infants to imitate selectively, the question about the adaptability of this behavior on an individual level did not attract considerable scientific attention until now. In the current study, we investigated whether 14-month-old infants flexibly alternate their imitative response in accordance with a model's changing physical constraints in a body-part imitation paradigm. Participants were presented with two novel actions whereby a model illuminated a light-box and turned on a sound-box, either by using her forehead (head touch) or by sitting on the apparatus (sit-touch). Each participant observed these tasks in two conditions: Once where the model's hands were occupied and once where her hands were free while executing the head or sit-touch. Participants were more likely to reenact the observed novel behavior when the model had freely chosen to perform it than when she had to do so due to physical constraints. Not only did we replicate a number of previous findings, we show here that preverbal infants adapt their imitative behavior across conditions based on the physical constraints of the model. These results point towards the adaptable nature of imitative behavior also on an individual level. This ability might be one of the building blocks for children for learning their social group's specific action repertoire.
Gellén, K., & Buttelmann, D. (2017). Fourteen-month-olds adapt their imitative behavior in light of a model’s constraints. Child Development Research, 2017. https://doi.org/10.1155/2017/8080649