Chapter 6: The 1st 2 yrs: Cognitive Development
Web Article: Deferred Imitation
Infants first generalize across contexts and cues at 3 months of age in operant tasks but not until 12 months of age in imitation tasks. Three experiments using an imitation task examined whether infants younger than 12 months of age might generalize imitation if conditions were more like those in operant studies. Infants sat on a distinctive mat in a room in their home (the context) while adult modeled actions on a hand puppet (the cue). When they were tested 24 h later, 6-month-olds generalized imitation when either the mat or the room (but not both) differed, whereas 9-month-olds generalized when both the mat and the room differed. In addition, 9-month-olds who imitated immediately also generalized to a novel test cue, whereas 6-month-olds did not. These results parallel results from operant studies and reveal that the similarity between the conditions of encoding and retrieval-not the type of task-determines whether infants generalize. The findings offer further evidence that memory development during infancy is a continuous function.
Deferred imitation has long held a privileged position in early cognitive development, considered an early marker of representational thought with links to language development and symbolic processes. Children with autism have difficulties with several abilities generally thought to be related to deferred imitation: immediate imitation, language, and symbolic play. However, few studies have examined deferred imitation in early autism. The present study examined both deferred, spontaneous imitation and immediate, elicited imitation on a set of carefully matched tasks in 36 young children with autism: 16 with early onset autism, 20 with regressive autism and two contrast groups, younger typically developing children (n = 20) and age matched children with significant developmental delays (n = 21). Analyses of co-variance controlling for differences...