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date: 27 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

Human beings are the most imitative creatures in the animal kingdom. Imitation has both cognitive and social aspects and is a powerful mechanism for learning about and from people. Imitation raises theoretical questions about perception–action coupling, memory, representation, social cognition, and social affinities toward others “like me.” Childhood imitation is attracting attention both within and outside of developmental psychology. Modern studies of imitative development are bringing to bear the techniques of cognitive neuroscience, machine learning, education, and cognitive-developmental science. By using neuroscience tools and cognitive modeling, scientists are uncovering the mechanisms that underlie imitation. Evolutionary biologists are using imitation to investigate social learning in other species and to compare this to the abilities of human infants. Engineers are designing robots that can learn like babies—imitating the skilled actions of experts in an unsupervised manner. Educational psychologists are increasingly attending to how children learn through observation, role-modeling, and apprenticeship in informal settings and using this to revise pedagogical practices in formal educational settings. This chapter provides an analysis of the development of children’s imitative ability, the mechanisms that underlie it, and the functions it serves in social, cognitive, and cultural learning from infancy to early childhood.

Keywords: imitation, cognitive development, social cognition, social learning, goals, intentions, theory of mind, culture, neural mirroring mechanisms, robotics, autism

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