Imitation of coordinated actions: how do children perceive relations between different parts?

Sophie J. Milward, Natalie Sebanz

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Young children not only need to learn how to perform isolated actions, but also temporally and spatially coordinated actions such as using a knife and fork. Routes to learning such coordinated actions include imitation and participation in joint action. However, little is known about the mechanisms guiding transmission of coordinated actions through observation and joint action performance. This paper reports an experiment comparing children’s tendency to imitate multiple, coordinated actions following demonstration by a single model acting bimanually (Bimanual Observation condition), two models performing the same actions jointly with one performing each hand action (Joint Observation condition) and a condition in which the child actively takes part in the joint action demonstration by performing one part in coordination with a partner (Joint Action condition). When children were subsequently left alone to perform the task independently, they were more likely to imitate both coordinated actions in the two observation conditions than in the Joint Action condition, with no difference between performance in Bimanual and Joint Observation conditions. It is argued that this is due to children being more able to form a global representation of both actions and the relations between the two when observing from a distance than when actively involved in the task.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0189717
JournalPLoS One
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jan 2018
Externally publishedYes


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