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Child Dev. 1996 Oct;67(5):1952-69.

Imitation or exploration? Young infants' matching of adults' oral gestures.

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Indiana University, Bloomington 47405, USA.


The claim that very young infants can imitate rests largely on reports that infants match adult displays of mouth opening (MO) and tongue protrusion (TP). Recent reviews suggest that only tongue protruding is reliably matched by young infants. This study tests the proposal that infants' "imitation" of tongue protruding reflects a coincidental match between a sight that infants find interesting and a behavior by which infants express interest. In Study 1, 4-week-old infants who looked longer at a nonsocial light display also produced TPs at higher rates than infants showing less interest. In Study 2, 4-week-old infants showed more interest (looked longer at) a tongue-protruding adult face than a mouth-opening face. Study 3 tracked 2 infants' responses to interesting objects for several weeks before and after the onset of manual reaching. Both infants produced tongue protrusions in response to objects within reach before but not after reaching developed. Together, the results of the 3 studies suggest that infants' tongue protrusions in response to a tongue-protruding adult reflect very early attempts at oral exploration of interesting objects.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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