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Doing the Right Thing: Infants' Selection of Actions to Imitate From Observed Event Sequences


  • Study 1 was part of the first author's Ph.D. dissertation, submitted to Tufts University. We are grateful to Linda Acredolo for sharing her facilities at the University of California, Davis for portions of this data collection. Study 2 was part of the second author's master's thesis, submitted to Tufts University. We thank Erika Brent, Jenn Brown, Ann Marie Camuti, Jonathan Cohen, Lauren Cresci, Sarah Deeb, Nick Desai, Rachael Fuchs, Nora Joyce, Alex McCauley, Brie Moore, Michelle Nilsson, Janna Pahnke, Heather Ransom, Angie Rodday, and Maya Rodriquez for their help in testing infants and scoring data tapes. We also extend our gratitude to the participant families. Finally, we acknowledge Stephen Want for reviewing the original manuscript and suggesting the intermediate role of imitation discussed in this article.

should be addressed to Emily W. Bushnell, Department of Psychology, Tufts University, Medford, Massachusetts 02155. Email:


Two studies were conducted to investigate how 14- to 16-month-old infants select actions to imitate from the stream of events. In each study, an experimenter demonstrated two actions leading to an interesting effect. Aspects of the first action were manipulated and whether infants performed this action when given the objects was observed. In both studies, infants were more likely to imitate the first action when it was physically necessary to generate the effect, and in Study 2 they were also more likely to imitate the action when it was socially cued. It seems that infants' own knowledge of space and causality as well as their sensitivity to others' social signals both contribute to their tendency to imitate actions.