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J Exp Child Psychol. 2010 Aug;106(4):208-20. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2010.03.002. Epub 2010 Apr 27.

The reliability of a model influences 14-month-olds' imitation.

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Department of Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Leipzig, Germany.


Human infants have an enormous amount to learn from others to become full-fledged members of their culture. Thus, it is important that they learn from reliable, rather than unreliable, models. In two experiments, we investigated whether 14-month-olds (a) imitate instrumental actions and (b) adopt the individual preferences of a model differently depending on the model's previous reliability. Infants were shown a series of videos in which a model acted on familiar objects either competently or incompetently. They then watched as the same model demonstrated a novel action on an object (imitation task) and preferentially chose one of two novel objects (preference task). Infants' imitation of the novel action was influenced by the model's previous reliability; they copied the action more often when the model had been reliable. However, their preference for one of the novel objects was not influenced by the model's previous reliability. We conclude that already by 14 months of age, infants discriminate between reliable and unreliable models when learning novel actions.

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