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Variability in judgement of neonatal imitation

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Reciprocity in interaction has been claimed to be an important aspect of neonatal imitation. In order to respond, an adult partner must be able to apprehend infant cues of imitation. The possibility of identifying neonatal imitation by inspecting infants' facial expressions alone was explored. The faces of 19 infants engaged in free face-to-face interaction with their mothers as well as watching their mothers display three types of gestures (tongue protrusion, mouth opening and the vocalization 'Ah') were videotaped. The video tapes were shown to eight observers who were asked to identify which gesture they believed the infant had been watching. The results showed that only sequences of free face-to-face interaction were correctly identified to a degree significantly exceeding chance. The percentage of correctly identified sequences varied considerably between the observers, and sequences for some gestures appeared to be easier to detect than others. The results indicate that signs of neonatal imitation are not easily detectable from the infant's behaviour alone. There are large individual variations in the extent to which imitative behaviour is distinguishable from spontaneous behaviour.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Education, Goteborg University, Sweden

Publication date: August 1, 2000

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