Beyond irrelevant actions: understanding the role of intentionality in children's imitation of relevant actions. Academic Article uri icon


  • The current research examines how 3- to 5-year-old children use intentionality to understand the causal structure of objects in an observational learning context. Two studies are presented in which the intentionality of relevant actions was manipulated during toy retrieval demonstrations and contrasted with whether these actions remained relevant or were rendered irrelevant for the child's turn. Of interest were whether children would imitate the first action when it was demonstrated intentionally but rendered irrelevant and how they would approach the first action when it was demonstrated accidentally and remained relevant. Findings revealed that children did not align themselves with the demonstrator's intentions in Study 1, when apparatuses were transparent, but did follow the demonstrator's intentions in Study 2, when apparatuses were opaque. This suggests that when causality of relevant actions is unambiguous, children use their own causal reasoning abilities, but ambiguous causal structure prompts children to defer to a demonstrator. It is suggested that opaque relevant actions may represent a real life parallel to irrelevant actions, the imitation of which is motivated by inherent ambiguity. Copyright © 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • March 2014