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In British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953)

Imitation development was studied in a cross-sectional design involving 174 primary-school children (aged 6-10), focusing on the effect of actions' complexity and error analysis to infer the underlying cognitive processes. Participants had to imitate the model's actions as if they were in front of a mirror ('specularly'). Complexity varied across three levels: movements of a single limb; arm and leg of the same body side; or arm and leg of opposite body sides. While the overall error rate decreased with age, this was not true of all error categories. The rate of 'side' errors (using a limb of the wrong body side) paradoxically increased with age (from 9 years). However, with increasing age, the error rate also became less sensitive to the complexity of the action. This pattern is consistent with the hypothesis that older children have the working memory (WM) resources and the body knowledge necessary to imitate 'anatomically', which leads to additional side errors. Younger children might be paradoxically free from such interference because their WM and/or body knowledge are insufficient for anatomical imitation. Yet, their limited WM resources would prevent them from successfully managing the conflict between spatial codes involved in complex actions (e.g. moving the left arm and the right leg). We also found evidence that action side and content might be stored in separate short-term memory (STM) systems: increasing the number of sides to be encoded only affected side retrieval, but not content retrieval; symmetrically, increasing the content (number of movements) of the action only affected content retrieval, but not side retrieval. In conclusion, results suggest that anatomical imitation might interfere with specular imitation at age 9 and that STM storages for side and content of actions are separate.

Ottoboni Giovanni, Toraldo Alessio, Proietti Riccardo, Cangelosi Angelo, Tessari Alessia


body knowledge, children, development, double dissociation, imitation, meaningless action, movement complexity, working memory