Infants’ Motor Simulation of Observed Actions Is Modulated by the Visibility of the Actor’s Body

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Previous research suggests that 9-month-old infants will develop a response bias in the A-not-B search paradigm after only observing an experimenter search for a hidden object on A-trials. In the current experiment, we tested whether infants would persist in making errors when only the hands-and-arms of the experimenter were visible. Three different conditions were included: (1) the experimenter was silent while hiding and finding the object, (2) the experimenter communicated with the infant via infant-directed speech, or (3) the body of the experimenter was visible during the training phase before his head and body were occluded during the test phase. Unlike previous studies, the results revealed that a significant proportion of infants searched correctly when the body of the experimenter was not visible, and only the combination of infant-directed speech and familiarization with a fully-specified body resulted in a majority of infants committing search errors. These results are interpreted as suggesting that the likelihood of infants committing search errors is dependent on their motor simulation of the experimenter's reaching. The strength of this simulation is graded by the similarity between the observed action and the motor representation.