The influences of intentionality and effectiveness of adults' behavior on infants' imitation of object-related actions
In the second year of life, infants are actively interested in objects used by adults, despite the number of experienced difficulties in achieving their goals while handling these objects. What causes the child attempt to handle an object for a designated purpose while watching the adult? One of the evident explanations concerns the effectiveness of the adult’s behavior and the child’s desire to achieve the same result. However, multiple studies have shown that a child is guided not exclusively by the hoped-for result, but also by the adult’s intention. In our study, we verified the reason guiding a child’s choice in an ambiguous condition modeled by situations which contrast intentional and effective adult behavior. We discovered that infants between 17 and 20 months old preferred to copy an adult’s intentional action even if this action did not result in positive outcome, but did not copy an adult’s accidental action, even if the action ended up with an attractive result. However, the child’s tendency to follow the adult’s intention develops during the process of growing, as no similar pattern is observed in children between 12 and 16 months old. Here we also discuss this phenomenon in terms of its relation to the existing data on the overimitation effect and the age range of its manifestation. The current study provides a view of social learning development which is an alternative to the traditional view which treats social learning only as an increase in the complexity of acquired actions with age. Our results suggest that what changes with development is that actions learned and demonstrated by the child become more and more relevant to planning and control of behavior.