Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Delayed and elicited imitation during early childhood

Deferred and elicited imitation paradigms allow for the monitoring of age-dependent developmental explicit processes (Mandler, 1990). Deferred and elicited imitation tasks provide infants and toddlers with an initial brief display of adult behavioral sequences that comprise a targeted act (Bauer, 1997; Meltzoff, 1990). During the learning phase infants and young children observe these sequences but are neither allowed to handle novel learning props nor permitted to practice observed developmentally-sensitive adult behavioral sequences. At a predetermined future time each infant and child is placed in the same or similar context with props reminiscent of the original learning session. Each child is experimentally observed to assess recall ability for the initial adult behavioral sequences. The paradigm, despite lack of verbal declaration, is likely explicit and declarative in nature due to its fast learning requirement, its need for temporal order and flexibility, and recreation and retrieval of previously observed behavioral sequences (Carver, Bauer, & Nelson, 2000). With increasing paradigm complexity older children are required to generalize previously observed adult behaviors to like situations. Deferred and elicited imitation paradigms require multimodal sensory processing; during the initial learning session infants and children engage either or both auditory and visual senses in response to adult behaviors and prop usage. During the delayed recall session evidence of memory recreation and recall ability is imputed in tactile manipulations of props and toys and behaviors reminiscent of the initial adult behavioral display. Further a role for the hippocampus and declarative processes in mediating learning of deferred imitation tasks has been confirmed; unlike normal controls amnesic patients (without a viable hippocampal region) are impaired in their reproduction of previously observed behavioral sequences (McDonough, Mandler, McKee, & Squire, 1995).

Deferred and elicited imitation studies can provide a method for analyzing and assessing age dependent cognitive abilities. The findings demonstrate age-dependent competency with increasing task complexities, i.e. increasing the number of behavioral sequencing and the broadening of delay periods. For instance six-month old infants can perform a deferred imitation task requiring the infant to initially observe one behavioral sequence of an experimenter reach for an apparatus. After a 24 hour delay infants can imitatively reach for the same prop with no prompting (Collie & Hayne, 1999). By nine months nearly one half of sampled infants after observing multiple step sequences of play manipulation of a toy car are able to reproduce the same sequences five weeks later. Cue reexposure helps to support the remainder of this sample to successfully reproduce earlier observed behavioral sequences (Carver & Bauer, 1999). The majority of sampled eleven month olds can learn to imitate two (to as much as four) behavioral sequences, e.g. making a toy car go up, placing it on top of a surface, rolling it down an incline, and recalling and behaviorally expressing this knowledge after a one week delay. Infants between 13-20 months of age are able to age dependently remember and behaviorally express 2-5 step sequences (e.g. helping Big Bird go for a ride, putting a toy bear in a seat and feeding it fruits, and cleaning up the testing room) observed eight months earlier (Bauer, Hertsgaard, & Dow, 1994). With advancing maturity twenty four month olds can learn to imitate as many as five behavioral sequences with delays as long as six weeks (Bauer, 1996). Task activity across ages has been accompanied by mean number of 13 expressed words about prop location by 13 month olds, 40 expressed words by 16 month olds, and 178.2 words by 20 month olds. By age 36-40 months children are able to provide coherent narratives about previously observed events in environments free from earlier observed cues of behavioral sequences (Bauer & Wewerka, 1995, 1997). Furthermore the ability for maintaining preferred and familiar canonical temporal sequencing order (Bauer & Thal, 1990) and generalizing and applying the use of unrelated distracter props and earlier observed behavioral sequences (Lechuga, Marcos-Ruiz, & Bauer, 2001) is achieved by 21 and 25 months respectively. In fact, 28 month olds can impute temporal sequencing to observe behavioral sequences viewed two weeks earlier (Bauer, Hertsgaard, Dropik, & Daly, 1998).

Therefore the deferred and elicited imitation findings demonstrate increasing age-dependent abilities, which are characterized by increasing task-related complexities and temporal recall delays. These increased competencies are also accompanied by the later development of increasing abilities for maintaining temporal order and for generalizing like-situations.


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