Age-related changes in learning across early childhood: a new imitation task.

Research paper by Kelly K Dickerson, Peter P Gerhardstein, Elizabeth E Zack, Rachel R Barr

Indexed on: 13 Jul '12Published on: 13 Jul '12Published in: Developmental Psychobiology


Imitation plays a critical role in social and cognitive development, but the social learning mechanisms contributing to the development of imitation are not well understood. We developed a new imitation task designed to examine social learning mechanisms across the early childhood period. The new task involves assembly of abstract-shaped puzzle pieces in an arbitrary sequence on a magnet board. Additionally, we introduce a new scoring system that extends traditional goal-directed imitation scoring to include measures of both children's success at copying gestures (sliding the puzzle pieces) and goals (connecting the puzzle pieces). In Experiment 1, we demonstrated an age-invariant baseline from 1.5 to 3.5 years of age, accompanied by age-related changes in success at copying goals and gestures from a live demonstrator. In Experiment 2, we applied our new task to learning following a video demonstration. Imitation performance in the video demonstration group lagged behind that of the live demonstration group, showing a protracted video deficit effect. Across both experiments, children were more likely to copy gestures at earlier ages, suggesting mimicry, and only later copy both goals and gestures, suggesting imitation. Taken together, the findings suggest that different social learning strategies may predominate in imitation learning dependent upon the degree of object affordance, task novelty, and task complexity.