Neonatal imitation of tongue protrusion and mouth opening: methodological aspects and evidence of early individual differences

Scand J Psychol. 1989;30(2):90-101. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9450.1989.tb01072.x.


The present work examines imitation of mouth opening and tongue protrusion in 32 full-term infants at three different occasions: When the infants are two to three days, three weeks, and three months old. The analysis focuses (1) on individual differences in imitative behaviour and (2) on how to operationalize the infants' responses. The overall group analysis revealed that imitation of tongue protrusion was statistically significant for both two- to three-day-old and three-week-old infants but not when the children had become three months old. No statistically significant effect was observed for imitation of mouth opening. Two different imitation indexes were constructed in order to assess individual differences in early imitative behaviour. Results show that short-term stability in imitative tendencies exists between the first and second observation. The results further reveal that methodological factors must be seriously considered when studying neonatal imitation: the overall imitation found for tongue protrusion is demonstrated to be dependent on how the infants' responses are coded.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imitative Behavior*
  • Individuality
  • Infant, Newborn / psychology*
  • Male
  • Tongue Habits*