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Are you like me? Maybe, but I will not imitate you! A longitudinal study on newborns and infants’ imitation and conspecific identification skills Open Access


Other title
like-me hypothesis
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Goncalves Barbosa, Poliana
Supervisor and department
Nicoladis, Elena (Department of Psychology, University of Alberta)
Examining committee member and department
Baerveldt, Cor (Department of Psychology, University of Alberta)
Wiebe, Sandra (Department of Psychology, University of Alberta)
Sturdy, Christopher (Department of Psychology, University of Alberta)
Slaughter, Virginia (School of Psychology, University of Queensland)
Department of Psychology

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Imitation abilities in infancy have long been proposed to be the building blocks of later social cognition skills (e.g., Gopnik & Meltzoff, 1994). Although Piaget (1953, 1962) argued that it was only in the coordination of secondary schemes that infants showed signs of true imitation, his approach was challenged by Meltzoff and Moore (1977), who argued that humans were capable of matching adults’ facial gestures from birth. Meltzoff and Moore (1977, 1983, 1989, 1994) proposed a new theory that explained their revolutionary discovery: the like me framework. The core of the like me framework is that infants are born with imitative skills, which allows them to match people’s behaviours and to recognize that the adult modelling a certain behaviour is just like them. In the current study, I aimed to replicate Meltzoff and Moore’s findings, as well as to test the like me equivalence framework by investigating if newborns are biased to specifically imitate humans (i.e., their conspecifics), or more broadly, face-like stimuli (e.g., an ape). Infants were longitudinally assessed (up to 7 days after birth, and at 1, 2, and 3 months of age). In each assessment, they were prompted with a moving pen, an ape robot protruding its tongue to the side, and an adult modelling lateral tongue protrusion. Infants’ tongue movements were coded according to their direction (forward or lateral tongue protrusion). Surprisingly, I did not find any sign of imitation across conditions and time points. I argue that I did not replicate Meltzoff and Moore’s findings because human beings are not capable of imitation either at birth or in the first the 3 months of age. I suggest that the associative sequence model (Ray & Heyes, 2011) or Jones’ (2015, 2016) revision of Piaget’s (1953, 1962) theory might be a way to predict the emergence of imitation in infancy.
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