The term imitation in psychological terms refers to the copying or mimicking of patterns of behaviour. This essay will evaluate the importance of imitation in infancy using the theory of Piaget contrasted with the findings of other studies that differ radically in their conclusions. The essay will show that the importance of imitation as a forerunner to symbolic representation and ultimately abstract thought can be counterbalanced by arguments concerning language acquisition which does not solely depend on imitation for its development and is arguably one of the most important of human tools to develop.
The amount of study this developmental feature has attracted is indicative of its importance in respect of cognitive development. As a precursor to planning, reasoning and decision-making, imitation is a vital first step on the path to internal symbolization and abstract representation. Additionally, imitation between mother and infant allows the infant to learn through repetition of event that it is effective as a means of communication and is the beginning of representation of the mother offering an expected response. It is arguable that this is a foundation in social relatedness and actual cognitive thought in infants.
However, even the term representation is argued over by theorists as to its meaning. Jean Mandler (1983) has addressed this issue by identifying two types of representation that she refers to as `Procedural' and `Declarative'. Procedural knowledge is `know-how' knowledge that we acquire in a variety of ways but would have difficulty explaining to another individual. Declarative knowledge is available through the flexible representation systems of conscious thought. Because declarative knowledge is available in this manner, it represents information that can be conveyed or explained to another person. This type of knowledge may well be unique to humans and is of particular interest in psychological terms because of its strength and flexibility.
Piaget (1951) argued that the ability to think and reason is a lengthy developmental process that begins in infancy and is not fully completed until late childhood. To investigate the development of memory, a necessary component of representation and abstract thought, Piaget conducted a longitudinal study of his own children during their first year of life. Piaget reasoned that the start of memory development was evident when an infant was able to imitate an event and later repeat the event for itself. For Piaget a time interval between successful episodes of mutual imitation was necessary to confirm memory retention and actual reproduction of the behaviour.
In his study Piaget failed to observe evidence of imitation in the first month of life which concurs with his theory that infants at this age are capable only of reflex actions over which they have no control. In the second to fourth months Piaget observed some evidence of imitation such as the opening and closing of the...