Exploring memory in infancy: deferred imitation and the development of declarative memory



Imitation is an important means by which infants learn new behaviours. When infants do not have the opportunity to immediately reproduce observed actions, they may form a memory representation of the event which can guide their behaviour when a similar situation is encountered again. Imitation procedures can, therefore, provide insight into infant memory. The deferred imitation paradigm requires a modelled action to be reproduced following a delay, without prior motor practice. As such, deferred imitation procedures have been proposed to tap declarative memory abilities in non-verbal populations such as infants. Contrary to the popular belief that infants form sparse or ill-defined memories, deferred imitation research reveals that infants store and retrieve highly detailed memory representations. The specificity of detail encoded into the representation can, however, cause memory retrieval to fail at young ages. Developing the ability to identify event components which are central (the target stimulus) versus details which are peripheral (the exact context in which learning occurred) is therefore an important aspect of memory development. Using deferred imitation procedures to study the transition from constrained to flexible memory representations can thus facilitate our understanding of the development of declarative memory during the infancy period. Copyright © 2006 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.