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A Comparison of Typically Developing and Developmentally Delayed Three- and Four- Year Olds on Imitation and Emulation in Two Testing Conditions: Immediate and Delayed

Philp, Amanda Charlene

Two testing conditions (immediate and delayed) were used to test for the presence of imitation and emulation in typically developing and developmentally delayed children, including children with autism spectrum disorder, ranging in age from 2.8-years old and 4.0-years old, in two experiments, Experiment I (n=20), Experiment II (n=30). Using a mixed within-between design, I compared the performance of the two groups across various tasks in two testing conditions and analyzed their performance. The participants were selected because they fit the criteria of 1) being between the age of 2.5 and 4 years of age at the onset of the study, 2) had gross motor and generalized imitation in repertoire, and 3) observational learning was present. The independent variable was the test interval in both experiments across both testing conditions, immediate and delayed. The dependent variables were the unconsequated responses during the test interval (Experiment I and II). The embedded dependent variable in Experiment II was the number of 5s intervals participants interacted with a puzzle box in the free play setting. Responses were defined as imitation (copy the specific actions with point-to-point correspondence), or emulation (bring about the model’s goal by the observer’s own methods and means, no point-to-point correspondence but same end result). In the first experiment I found that although typically developing preschoolers often imitate in the short term, they were more likely to emulate in the long term when not shown again how to use the items. In contrast the participants with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to imitate across both testing conditions. My findings support evidence that typically developing children naturally shift from imitation to emulation and that children are in fact emulators in contrast to research that suggests otherwise. For those children with autism, Experiment I, supports evidence that they are potentially missing a developmental cusp (emulation). Experiment II sought to replicate the findings in Experiment I and differed in that 1) more tasks were added, 2) more participants were used, and 2) a free play observation session was added. The results from Experiment II supported the results from Experiment I, in that, all participants (typically developing and those with autism) were more likely to imitate in the short-term immediate testing condition; however, typically developing children naturally shifted to an emulative response given a delay, whereas, those children with autism continued to emit imitative behaviors given a delay, signifying that children with autism are missing the developmental cusp of emulation. The findings support the notion that emulation is a developmental cusp and that children with autism often are missing this developmental cusp.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Applied Behavior Analysis
Thesis Advisors
Greer, R. Douglas
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
April 22, 2016