Selective and faithful imitation at 12 and 15 months

Research on imitation in infancy has primarily focused on what and when infants imitate. More recently, however, the question why infants imitate has received renewed attention, partly motivated by the finding that infants sometimes selectively imitate the actions of others and sometimes faithfully imitate, or overimitate, the actions of others. The present study evaluates the hypothesis that this varying imitative behavior is related to infants' social traits. To do so, we assessed faithful and selective imitation longitudinally at 12 and 15 months, and extraversion at 15 months. At both ages, selective imitation was dependent on the causal structure of the act. From 12 to 15 months, selective imitation decreased while faithful imitation increased. Furthermore, infants high in extraversion were more faithful imitators than infants low in extraversion. These results demonstrate that the onset of faithful imitation is earlier than previously thought, but later than the onset of selective imitation. The observed relation between extraversion and faithful imitation supports the hypothesis that faithful imitation is driven by the social motivations of the infant. We call this relation the King Louie Effect: like the orangutan King Louie in The Jungle Book, infants imitate faithfully due to a growing interest in the interpersonal nature of interactions.
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