Deferred imitation is typically defined as a modelled action or series of actions that are reproduced after a certain delay.
The beauty behind deferred imitation, is that it can give us a tremendous amount of insight into our little one’s development. It symbolizes an underlying complex cognitive process. It has been theorized, that imitation may also be an important channel for early social learning. It seems that observation has a great effect on skill acquisition and in some cases even more so than conditioning or trial and error.
For your baby to be able to imitate a day or a week after he sees you do something, your baby has acquired the ability to retain the information, recall it and reproduce it without a guide later on. Simple acts such as closing a flap, pushing a button or shaking an object after seeing an adult doing it a while ago are already a sign of a cognitive task as well as physical. Deferred imitation taps more into “recalling” abilities than recognition per se. Your baby must do something more than simply discriminate between a familiar and an unknown object, he must use his motor skills to reproduce the act he saw earlier.
What are the implications of deferred imitation?
For starters, deferred imitation emphasizes the fact that your baby is a sponge that ultimately acquires new skills or patterns of behavior through observation. He may see you arguing or engaging in a behavior that you or your partner are not particularly fond of and even from a young age he’s encoding all stimuli to retain and repeat.
Your little one, has the ability to present a behavior he was exposed to 4 months before! The danger lies when deferred imitation is combined with low impulse control, poor discipline skills or when he is continuously exposed to unfavorable behavior and responses (even from TV!).
At the end of the day, your baby is consuming your behavior and his surroundings 24/7, it’s up to you what you want to transmit and what kind of example you want to set. If you want to learn more in detail about deferred imitation you can do so here: