Acknowledgment: The author was a member of the Department of Human Development at Tzu Chi University during the period of this work and was supported by grants from the National Science Council of Taiwan (NSC 93-2413-H-320-003 and NSC 96-2628-H-320-001-MY2). I thank Shin-Ru Jiang for help in the construction of the test materials, data collection, and scoring; Tommy Liu, Kuan-Jay Huang, and Yin-Chuan Wang for interrater reliability; Hsiao-Hua Chen for illustrations of the test materials; and Wan-Ting Chao for data processing. I also want to thank the children and parents who participated in this study. I am grateful to the institutes that helped us recruit subjects: Hualien Health Center, Mennonite Christian Hospital, and Tzu Chi Hospital.
Children acquire many cognitive skills through their attempts to imitate acts on objects after observing others. Variations of an imitative match arise from children's use of information sources potentially available in a demonstration, such as goals, actions, and results (Call & Carpenter, 2002). For example, children may prefer to copy rather than omit a causally irrelevant act that they realize is unnecessary to achieve a certain outcome; they may emulate another person's intended but unconsummated acts as a consequence of intention reading; or they may devise their strategies to induce an environmental result in the absence of observed contextual acts. These distinctions suggest that the relative involvement of information sources may distinguish different social learning processes. The study of how children learn others' acts in contexts of observational learning is thus an important topic for our understanding of social cognitive development in early childhood.
A growing body of research has been interested in social learning mechanisms during childhood. Applying concepts and methods from comparative sciences, what is typically called imitation in developmental psychology has been questioned by contemplating other nonimitative social learning processes, including stimulus (local) enhancement, mimicry, and emulation (Want & Harris, 2002). Many of these distinctions filter through to the developmental study of imitation. The present study aims to analyze the process of emulation learning, an observer's tendency to reproduce action effects at the cost of details of the model's strategy (Tomasello, 1990).
To better understand how different sources of information influence the tendency to emulate, Whiten and colleagues identify four learning possibilities: end-state emulation, goal emulation, object movement reenactment, and affordance learning (Whiten, Horner, Litchfield, & Marshall-Pescini, 2004; Whiten, McGuigan, Marshall-Pescini, & Hopper, 2009). In end-state emulation, an observer copies the outcome of a modeled sequence without evaluating its goal-directedness. In goal emulation, the observer has insight into goal-directed actions but attempts to devise a strategy to reproduce the outco...