Child Development

The second area of thought in which psychologists are interested in is the way that children engage in conversation through imitation. Piaget believed that when infants began to imitate behaviours their memory was starting to develop. Research was done by performing actions such as poking out the tongue and recording children’s reactions. Two aspects became evident which were confirmed by Uzgiris and Hunt which were that ‘children can only imitate actions they are already able to perform.

2nd point of difficulty for infants at this age is that they are unable to imitate actions that require them to use parts of their bodies which they cannot see. ‘ Meltzoff and Moore (1977, as cited by Bancroft, D, 1994) also conducted investigations into infant imitation. They used a single blind method to try and counteract experimenter bias. One limitation with this procedure is that there was no item on the judge’s list to indicate the possibility of no imitation.

They concluded that the infants were able to selectively imitate the adult behaviours shown to them in this experiment. Although individual variation needs to be taken into account. Jacobson (1979, as cited by Bancroft, D, 1994) extended Meltzoff and Moore’s experiment by using a pen and a ball. Jacobson found that infants responded to the items moving towards them which suggests that ‘one could not claim that the infants of this age selectively imitated. ‘ (page 148)

Vinter (1986, as cited by Bancroft, D, 1994 ) traced the changes in imitation as infants developed. Vinter believed that ‘early infant behaviour (like tongue poking etc) was controlled by those parts of the brain seem to work without conscious control and the infant at this stage cannot choose whether to respond or not. As the outer layer of the brain develops, it becomes possible for the infant to over ride the part, which had, up to that time controlled behaviour. This is in direct contrast with Piaget’s beliefs.

The problem with observing imitation is that it is easy for investigators to misinterpret evidence, that early imitation may not be under conscious control, which means that the behaviour portrayed is not imitation at all and infants are capable of imitating but it is obscured by other developments. As it can be seen it is hard to understand and do any research, which is going to be 100% reliable and valid as, there are so many aspects involved in cognitive development.

In regards to the first year of infancy an investigation of what infants can do at the age of some weeks is unable to answer the question of how much ability they were born with since it is possible that what they can demonstrate has been learned since birth. Accordingly, psychologists make considerable efforts to study very young children, which allow them to claim that what these infants can do must have been present from birth because they have not had time to learn.

There are many perspectives on developmental psychology and different psychologists view infant’s cognitive development in different ways. Piaget is a constructivist who believes that knowledge is constructed. He does not believe that cognitive development is innate and is not discovered in the environment. He also believed that this perception is universal. Modifications in children’s competence represent a transition from one state of knowledge to another.

As well as methodological and philosophical problems, more recently different research has questioned the basic stance of domain general development. For the Piagtian framework development is characterised as unified abstract entities that function across cognitive domains, while for others development may progress in different domains independently (such as spatial, number and causality cognition). These approaches retain the idea that modules of cognitive processing are pre-wired and autonomous.

Development involves the child’s strong or weak working of theories. Meltzoff and Moore take a radically different view concerning the nature of the newborn infants cognitive system. In their view infants do not need to embark on the developmental process described by Piaget since they are born with an ability to symbolise (or represent) their world, which is based on evidence that suggests that infants can imitate in the first hours of life.

‘They belong to a group of theorists working from a ‘nativist’ philosophical starting point who believe that newborn humans possess an integrated sensory system in which physical behaviour and sensory behaviour both share a common form of representation. ‘ (Bancroft, D, 1994, page 150) Vinter’s perception accommodates evidence from both Piaget and Meltzoff and Moore. The Neo – Piagtian stance is represented by the new theory. The generality and stages of development are de emphasised. Social interaction is more influential.

The child’s information processing capacities as well as development in working memory are more relevant. However, even though investigating thought during the first year of infancy is contentious and there is limitations in the investigations that we have looked at, they have provided the psychological and educational world an insight into relevant clues about the mental life of infants and how we progress as humans.


Bandcroft, D, (1994) ‘The genesis of Thought’ in Oates, J. (Ed) The Foundations of Child Development, Blackwell Publishers Ltd, Oxford, in association with the Open University.

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