Infants' Observation of Others' Actions: Brief Movement-Specific Visual Experience Primes Motor Representations

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British Journal of Developmental Psychology





Recent research suggests that infants' observation of others' reaching actions activates corresponding motor representations which develop with their motor experience. Contralateral reaching develops a few months later than ipsilateral reaching, and 9-month-old infants are less likely to map the observation of these reaches to their motor representations. The goal of the current study was to test whether a brief familiarization with contralateral reaching is sufficient to prime this less developed motor representation to increase the likelihood of its activation. In Experiment 1, infants were familiarized with contralateral reaching before they were tested in an observational version of the A-not-B paradigm. A significant number of infants searched incorrectly, suggesting that the observation of contralateral reaching primed their motor representations. In Experiment 2, infants were familiarized with ipsilateral reaching, which shared the goals but not the movements associated with the contralateral reaches observed during testing, and they did not show a search bias. Taken together, these results suggest that a brief familiarization with a movement-specific behaviour facilitates the direct matching of observed and executed actions.