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Department of Psychology


Developmental differences in the use of social-attention cues to imitation were examined among children aged 3- and 6-years old (n = 58) and adults (n = 29). In each of 20 trials, participants watched a model grasp two objects simultaneously and move them together. On every trial, the model directed her gaze towards only one of the objects. Some object pairs were related and had a clear functional goal outcome (e.g., flower, vase), while others were functionally unrelated (e.g., cardboard square, ladybug). Owing to attentional effects of eye gaze, it was expected that all participants would more faithfully imitate the grasp on the gazed-at object than the object not gazed at. Children were expected to imitate less accurately on trials with functionally-related objects than those without, due to goal-hierarchy effects. Results support effects of eye gaze on motor contagion. Children’s grasping accuracy on functionally-related and functionally-unrelated trials was similar but they were more likely to only use one hand on trials where the object pairs were functionally related. Implications for theories of imitation are discussed.