Skepticism toward the existence of neonatal differential imitation is fostered by views that assign it an excessive significance, making it foundational for social cognition. Moreover, a misleading theoretical framework may generate unwarranted expectations about the kinds of findings experimentalists are supposed to look for. Hence we propose a theoretical analysis that may help experimentalists address the empirical question of whether early differential imitation really exists. We distinguish three models of early imitation. The first posits automatic visuo-motor links evolved for sociocognitive functions and we call it Genetically Programmed Direct Matching (GPDM). The second is Meltzoff and Moore’s Active Intermodal Matching (AIM), which postulates a comparison between the acts of self and other. The third is the alternative we propose and we call it “Association by Similarity Theory” (AST), as it relies on the tacit functioning of this domain-general process. AST describes early imitation merely as the differential induction or elicitation of behaviors that already tend to occur spontaneously. We focus on the contrast between AIM and AST, and argue that AST is preferable to AIM for two reasons. First, AST is more parsimonious and more plausible, especially because it does not require infants to be able to recognize self-other similarities. Second, whereas the extant findings tend to disqualify AIM, AST can account for them adequately. Furthermore, we suggest that AST has the potential to give new impulse to empirical research because it discriminates promising lines of inquiry from unproductive ones.
Review of Philosophy and Psychology – Springer Journals
Published: Dec 29, 2017
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