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There is no compelling evidence that human neonates imitate

  • Siobhan Kennedy-Costantini (a1), Janine Oostenbroek (a2), Thomas Suddendorf (a3), Mark Nielsen (a3) (a4), Jonathan Redshaw (a3), Jacqueline Davis (a5), Sally Clark (a3) and Virginia Slaughter (a3)...

Keven & Akins (K&A) propose that neonatal “imitation” is a function of newborns' spontaneous oral stereotypies and should be viewed within the context of normal aerodigestive development. Their proposal is in line with the result of our recent large longitudinal study that found no compelling evidence for neonatal imitation. Together, these works prompt reconsideration of the developmental origin of genuine imitation.

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Jacobson, S. W. (1979) Matching behavior in the young infant. Child Development 50(2):425–30. Available at:
Jones, S. S. (1996) Imitation or exploration? Young infants' matching of adults' oral gestures. Child Development 67(5):1952–69. Available at:
Keven, N. & Akins, K. (2016) Neonatal imitation in context: Sensory-motor development in the perinatal period. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 1107. Available at:
Meltzoff, A. N. & Moore, M. K. (1977) Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science 198(4312):7578. Available at:
Oostenbroek, J., Slaughter, V., Nielsen, M. & Suddendorf, T. (2013) Why the confusion around neonatal imitation? A review. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology 31(4):328–41.
Oostenbroek, J., Suddendorf, T., Nielsen, M., Redshaw, J., Kennedy-Costantini, S., Davis, J., Clark, S. & Slaughter, V. (2016) Comprehensive longitudinal study challenges the existence of neonatal imitation in humans. Current Biology 26(10):1334–38. Available at:
Ray, E. & Heyes, C. (2011) Imitation in infancy: The wealth of the stimulus. Developmental Science 14(1):92105. Available at:
Simpson, E. A., Murray, L., Paukner, A. & Ferrari, P. F. (2014a) The mirror neuron system as revealed through neonatal imitation: Presence from birth, predictive power and evidence of plasticity. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 369(1644):20130289. Available at:
Suddendorf, T., Oostenbroek, J., Nielsen, M. & Slaughter, V. (2013) Is newborn imitation developmentally homologous to later social-cognitive skills? Developmental Psychobiology 55:5258. Available at:
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Behavioral and Brain Sciences
  • ISSN: 0140-525X
  • EISSN: 1469-1825
  • URL: /core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences
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