Re-examination of Oostenbroek et al. (2016): Evidence for Neonatal Imitation of Tongue Protrusion

Andrew N. Meltzoff (Lead / Corresponding author), Lynne Murray, Elizabeth Simpson, Mikael Heimann, Emese Nagy, Jacqueline Nadel, Eric J. Pedersen, Rechele Brooks, Daniel S. Messinger, Leonardo De Pascalis, Francys Subiaul, Annika Paukner, Pier F. Ferrari

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The meaning, mechanism, and functions of imitation in early infancy have been actively discussed since Meltzoff and Moore’s (1997) report of facial and manual imitation by human neonates. Oostenbroek et al. (2016) claim to challenge the existence of early imitation and to counter all interpretations so far offered. Such claims, if true, would have implications for theories of social-cognitive development. Here we identify 11 flaws in Oostenbroek et al.’s experimental design that biased the results toward null effects. We requested and obtained the authors’ raw data. Contrary to the authors’ conclusions, new analyses reveal significant tongue protrusion imitation at all 4 ages tested (1, 3, 6, and 9 weeks old). We explain how the authors missed this pattern and offer 5 recommendations for designing future experiments. Infant imitation raises fundamental issues about action representation, social learning, and brain-behavior relations. The debate about the origins and development of imitation reflects its importance to theories of developmental science.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12609
JournalDevelopmental Science
Issue number4
Early online date27 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2018


  • Infant imitation
  • visual processing
  • motor behavior
  • perception-action
  • social learning


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