Psychotherapy and Neuroscience

Delayed & elicited imitation during infancy

There is also evidence that certain learning abilities are present soon after birth. Meltzoff and colleagues found that infants aged forty-two minutes old, when delayed the ability for imitating an adults facial movements, e.g. mouth openings and tongue thrusts, demonstrated increased imitative behaviors to a targeted expressionless adult face after removal of a pacifier (Meltzoff, 1990ab; Meltzoff & Moore, 1977, 1985). Delay recognition testing by the same authors with infants the same age produced greater tongue protrusions after the tongue protrusion display disappeared and was replaced with passive-face demonstrations (Meltzoff & Moore, 1989). These findings suggest that simple retrieval processes with temporally brief delays can be activated shortly after birth. Moreover with maturation the delay period associated with retrieval continues development and expansion. For instance the six week old infant demonstrates the ability for recognition and retrieval as it protrudes its tongue to a motionless gestural-free face that just 24 hours earlier was associated with tongue protrusion (Meltzoff & Moore, 1994). These findings led these authors to conclude that delayed recall is reflective of “nonverbal declarative memory” (Meltzoff, 1995, p. 511) because it is not stimulus bound in the same way as nondeclarative-implicit memory (Meltzoff & Moore, 1997). These findings suggest that the ability for retrieval, i.e. event recreation from memory, is apparent very early during ontogenetic development (Meltzoff, 1995). They also support the theory that different memory systems develop in a concurrent rather than consecutive manner.


Meltzoff, A.N. (1990a). Foundations for developing a concept of self: the role of imitation in relating self to other and the value of social mirroring, social modeling, and self practice in infancy. In: D. Cicchetti & M. Beeghly (Eds.), The self in transition (pp. 139-164). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Meltzoff, A.N. (1990b). Towards a developmental cognitive science. The implications of cross-modal matching and imitation for the development of representation and memory in infancy. Annals New York Academy of Sciences, 608, 1-31.

Meltzoff, A.N. (1995). What infant memory tells us about infantile amnesia: long-term recall and deferred imitation. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 59, 497-515.

Meltzoff, A.N., & Moore, M.K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science, 198(4312), 74-78.

Meltzoff, A.N., & Moore M.K. (1985). Cognitive foundations and social functions of imitation and intermodal representation in infancy. In: J. Mehler & R. Fox (Eds.), Neonate cognition: beyond the blooming buzzing confusion (pp. 139-156). Hillsdale, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Meltzoff, A.N., & Moore, M.K. (1994). Imitation, memory, and the representation of persons. Infant Behavior and Development, 17, 83-99.

Meltzoff, A.N., & Moore, M.K. (1989). Imitation in newborn infants: exploring the range of gestures imitated and the underlying mechanisms. Developmental Psychology, 25(6), 954-962.

Meltzoff, A.N., & Moore, M.K. (1997). Explaining facial imitation: a theoretical model. Early Development and Parenting, 6, 179-192.