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Dev Psychobiol. 2014 May;56(4):864-70. doi: 10.1002/dev.21146. Epub 2013 Jun 21.

Visual attention during neonatal imitation in newborn macaque monkeys.

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Eunice Kennedy ShriverNational Institute of Child Health and Human Development, Laboratory of Comparative Ethology, Poolesville, MD; Dipartimento di Neuroscienze, Università di Parma, Parma, Italy.


Previous studies suggest that about 50% of rhesus macaque infants engage in neonatal imitation of facial gestures. Here we measured whether individual differences in newborn macaques' (n = 49) visual attention may explain why some infants imitate lipsmacking (LPS) and tongue protrusion (TP) gestures. LPS imitators, but not TP imitators, looked more to a human experimenter's face and to a control stimulus compared to nonimitators (p = .017). LPS imitation was equally accurate when infants were looking at faces and when they were looking away (p = .221); TP imitation was more accurate when infants were looking at faces (p = .001). Potentially, less attention is necessary for LPS imitation compared to TP imitation, as LPS is part of macaques' natural communicative repertoire. These findings suggest that facial gestures may differentially engage imitators and nonimitators, and infants' visual attention during neonatal assessments may uncover the conditions that support this skill.


communication; facial gestures; infant; mirror neuron system; monkey; mother-infant interaction; neonatal imitation; newborn; rhesus macaque; social behavior; visual attention

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