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Rethinking ‘Rational Imitation’ in 14-Month-Old Infants: A Perceptual Distraction Approach
Published: Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Author: Miriam Beisert et al.

by Miriam Beisert, Norbert Zmyj, Roman Liepelt, Franziska Jung, Wolfgang Prinz, Moritz M. Daum

In their widely noticed study, Gergely, Bekkering, and Király (2002) showed that 14-month-old infants imitated an unusual action only if the model freely chose to perform this action and not if the choice of the action could be ascribed to external constraints. They attributed this kind of selective imitation to the infants' capacity of understanding the principle of rational action. In the current paper, we present evidence that a simpler approach of perceptual distraction may be more appropriate to explain their results. When we manipulated the saliency of context stimuli in the two original conditions, the results were exactly opposite to what rational imitation predicts. Based on these findings, we reject the claim that the notion of rational action plays a key role in selective imitation in 14-month-olds.
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